Have you ever read something that resonates with you so well that you just can’t help but smile and say “yup, that’s so true!” Today, I came across just such a quote and it resonated with me so well that I wanted to expand upon it.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”Marcus Garvey
How true is such a statement!
As an individual with a passion for genealogy and family histories—I found myself, as I often do—in a conversation about the topics. It always amazes me at how often people do not know much about their grandparents and sometimes even their parents.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a young man about 24 years old. We were discussing DNA testing and the differences between the types of tests available and what they offer. I advised him to get a basic genealogy sheet to fill in for his family to start with. There are many available online for free. You can find one example here.
The “home” person is the starting point, usually found at the bottom of the sheet. From there you go up the sheet or back in the tree, adding the parents and grandparents. The oldest generations are at the top and the youngest are at the bottom.
As I sat with this young man and helped him to fill in his sheet, he put a nickname for his mother. I told him to use his mom’s full name as that is often how formal documents are listed. Often nicknames are added in the notes. Along with the full name, you typically want to note the person’s date of birth (DOB) and the location of birth.
Imagine my surprise when he did not know his mom’s full first name or her middle name!
Friends, this is vital information to have, even without a genealogical reason.
Once you have both parents listed in as much detail as you can, you can move onto the grandparents. We need the same information for all ancestors in order for a tree to be considered complete. However, genealogy is always an ever-changing thing.
Five generations are typically considered the common pedigree chart standard. As you can see with a basic chart linked above, with each generation, the number of ancestors doubles in the direct line while the percentage of DNA shared decreases.
For example, from the main “home” person in the tree (number 1), you would input the parents (numbers 2 & 3). Then the grandparents raise the number of individuals to 4, and so on.
Having the full names, dates of birth, and locations is helpful for finding records for births, deaths, census records, marriages, and the like. Knowing this information can also give you an idea of what your ancestors lived through and how they lived daily.
There are a lot of resources that can help you research your family tree. When possible, it’s usually helpful to talk to any and all family members that are still living. This includes aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family members. You never know where you will find a hidden treasure of knowledge.
Searching for family bibles can also be a reliable source of information. Even with earlier generations, when it was common for minimal schooling, the family bible was often filled in, to some degree. A lot of bibles provide sections for owners to fill in their family history. Some are more in depth than others, but we can find clues there. Long before the government kept track of records, the church kept records and often these were diligently done.
Though genealogy is ever changing and can include many different things, there are some universal things that are often included. As I’ve mentioned already, birth, marriage, and death are important records for genealogy.
There are also baptismal records, common in churches. Graduations or military services are often important as well. There are also burial records and obituaries that are full of information that is useful. Some occupational records have also been kept and are available, though this is less common. Some of my favorite records are newspaper articles, which can sometimes be referred to as the “social media” of the past.
DNA testing is also a useful tool that can be used to support a paper trail. There are 3 main types of DNA that are used for ancestry. YDNA is useful for tracking the male line. MtDNA tracks the mother’s line. Autosomal tracks both sides of the family and is useful for determining where someone might fall in your tree.
Current autosomal genealogical DNA testing goes back about eight generations. Most companies go back 5-7 generations with solid science. With each generation, your DNA divides. So, for a 1% DNA match, you would be looking at around 7 generations.
In August of 2012, the BBC posted a statement to help give a better idea of how this all plays out. “If people in this population meet and breed at random, it turns out that you only need to go back an average of 20 generations before you find an individual who is a common ancestor of everyone in the population.” Twenty generations is about 400 years, give or take.
A few things to keep in mind is that YDNA mutates over several generations and can only be tested with males. MtDNA mutates more slowly than YDNA and therefore can go back further than other testing. These tests are interesting and provide valuable insight, however the Autosomal DNA tests are usually more beneficial in finding more recent connections and ancestors.
Digging in and finding your roots can be very time consuming and expensive. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of resources and tools available. I would love to know your thoughts on where you want to go from here? What do you know or want to know? What questions do you have? Comment below!
The confidence of knowing your heritage and the path your family has taken is invaluable. What are you waiting for? Start your tree today.