Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Confession

Everyone is in the same situation I am as far as ancestors go:  we all have the same number of them.  By my count, after 2 parents the number of ancestors in each successive generation back in time doubles, making 14 ancestors by the time we reach our great-grandparents, 126 ancestors by our 4th great-grandparents, and 1,022 by the time we get to our 8th great-grandparents.

But me?  I confess:  I have absolutely too many ancestors.  Finding 1,022 individuals who lived as long ago as the 1700s is entirely too many.  For that matter, finding 126 ancestors seems like too many, too.

Maybe the problem is not the number of ancestors but the fact that I have to find so much information about them to recognize them as my own family members.  A simple search for a death record, which if not available, may turn into a search for a burial record, or a will or probate record, or an obituary, or some other record to indicate a death date and location and a family relationship.  Going back in time we search for a marriage record, either civil or church, and/or banns, or a newspaper article, possibly even an article detailing an anniversary celebration.  Or maybe it's someone else's will naming the couple as husband and wife.  Of course, there's the search for a birth record, either civil or church, newspaper announcement, etc.  And the list of possible documents goes on....

If you want my opinion, there are just too many records and documents available.  We don't need all those documents.  The only ones we need are the ones that document my family.  I suppose we should keep the ones that document your family, too, shouldn't we?

And there are so many places to search for those documents.  If there were three specific, known places to find each ancestor's information it would be so much easier.  Found and done.  But no, the records are all over the place -- online in any number of genealogy collections, in courthouses, in libraries, at historical societies....  Not to mention the fact that our ancestors didn't stay in one place. 

Then there are the relationships.  Keeping them straight is a challenge.  Someone asks, "Who was so-and-so's husband?"  Uh... let me check.  I can't remember everyone.  Besides not remembering them, I confuse them.  Was it Robert Laws or Robert Reay?  You'd think I could keep everyone straight.  After all, they ARE my family.  I can keep three generations of couples in mind and remember who belongs where in the family structure, but when it comes to the children, which we sometimes have to find, that's another problem altogether.  Some ancestors married again after the death of a spouse or after a divorce which means more searches.  Add to that the fact that children died, more children were born who were sometimes given the same name as children who died.  Some ancestors have the same name, passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter or from father to son to grandson.  Who is who?  Sometimes those names were given to nieces and nephews, confusing the matter even more.  Ancestors can be a challenge to keep in line.

Sometimes the search has to extend to the individual's sons and daughters, sometimes to his or her  siblings, sometimes even more broadly, all in the search for and hope of finding my direct ancestor's parents.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I really want to find all the children of an ancestor so I can gather the family back together.  More people, more challenges -- too many people.

Of course, it's not enough to know only dates of birth, death, and marriage.  I want to know if they owned property, where they lived, what the house looked like, who built it, what church they attended, how far it was to get there, what their occupations were, whether they owned a business or were paid employees, etc.  For my farming ancestors I want to know what crops they grew, how many acres of land they owned, what animals they had, the names of their horses, etc.  For my coal mining ancestors I want to know where they lived, which mines they worked in, exactly what their jobs were in the mines, how much they earned, why they moved from one mine to another, and on and on.  My ancestors could have helped a lot if they'd kept written records and passed them along to me.  (If they had written things down, I'm sure the record would have ended up in some other descendant's hands, probably someone who wouldn't have cared a whit and tossed the papers.)

But despite feeling like I have too many ancestors, I believe their spirits are alive in the Great Beyond and that they want to be found.  So I can't imagine saying to any one of them, I can't search for you.  I already have too many ancestors.  (But just between you and me, sometimes one more ancestor feels like one more ancestor too many.)

I know I wouldn't be here without every single one -- grandparent to nth great-grandparent -- so I'm grateful to each of them.  But that doesn't prevent the occasional thought that there really are just too many of them. 

How about you?  Do you have too many ancestors?


Copyright © 2017, Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I recently joined Ancestry, after many decades of slow piece by piece genealogy, and experienced information overload. The information came so fast and furious there was no time to analyze the information because there was a list of other documents to review. There is balance, and yes sometimes it does feel like too much, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

    1. Yes, I really am thrilled with the information that's currently available but I know how important it is to carefully review each document, not only to be sure it's our ancestor, but also so as not to overlook any bit of information available in the document.

  2. You know that saying--"So many ancestors, so little time" really does hold true! Sometimes the number of ancestors uncovered (and the research that therefore must be done to verify or flesh out each one) seems a bit overwhelming. But on the other hand, genealogy is the hobby that keeps on giving, to me and to the generations who will come after me. Think I'll just keep on keeping on. Best of luck to you and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

    1. LOL, Marian. The older I get the more I sense the time running out. I can only hope one or both of my daughters continues to search. For now, like you, I'll just keep on keeping on. Merry Christmas to you, Marian.


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