prune your family tree

Prune Your Family Tree

by Dave Voelker on February 28, 2011 · 12 comments

in Uncategorized

Do you prune your family tree?  Do you keep your family tree, and your primary research, limited to those of your direct paternal and maternal lines?  Do you allow only blood relatives in your tree?  Alternatively, do you let your family tree grow wild and connect in all sorts of in-laws and out-laws through marriages and do you trace those families as well?

I have personally chosen the latter route and have agreed to bring in everyone that I can connect through a marriage.  This clearly opens me up to an exponentially larger number of individuals ultimately but I admit that I do not chase them all down with the same energy.  Clearly, I have spent considerable time on my wife’s family as well as the family of my grandmothers and their siblings.

I do place a special emphasis on being able to trace my paternal line, and all it’s descendants, cleanly and have done that.  I am also very intrigued by the connections that come up when I pull in the marriages and the siblings by marriage.  Through this means I can draw a connection to Davy Crockett, a lieutenant colonel that died at Valley Forge under George Washington, and if we believe all of the data one particular line that is researched back into the 14th century European nobility.

This for me adds spice to the genealogy quest and I have met some wonderful people along the way who were not blood relatives but distant connections through married cousins 4 times removed and the like.  Having spent time this way I have begun to appreciate that the “six degrees of separation” is likely more than just an anecdotal observation.

Where do you stand?  I am interested in how many of you keep a neat and tidy family tree of blood relative and how many let their tree grow wild.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susan Petersen March 7, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I enjoy finding information on the in-laws and the out-laws! Quite often, I find myself getting distracted by following these leads, but sometimes the stories and connections are so helpful I can’t help myself. My philosophy in my use of is that when the links are available and it is clearly the kin of the kin of my kin, I add the people, the documents and the newspaper articles to my tree. My thought is that if I can do some of the legwork it might pay off by helping someone else down the line who might be related to the family.

Apparently my approach is working because via Ancestry’s member connect feature, I see that other people are saving the information to their trees. Many of them write to me, wondering if and how we are related. Most are thankful for the information I’ve gathered.

It’s also a pleasant distraction when I hit a road block on my own research.


2 Stephanie March 30, 2011 at 1:38 am

I never really felt I needed any justification for adding all my in-laws and their spouses, plus spouses of cousins, etc., but I love your point of view! In the future, if I need to explain why I care about all those ‘other’ relations by marriage, I’m going to point them to your post!


3 Linda McGill Wagner April 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

Exactly! I feel the same way. AND . . . it helps when you come to a road block in your own research, besides helping someone else trying to search theirs.


4 RAH March 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I used to add to my tree anyone who was even vaguely connected to me, but decided to prune out of the tree anyone who’s not a blood relative or the spouse of a blood relative. There are a couple of exceptions – where someone married a cousin by marriage, or where 3 Hudson siblings married 3 Becher siblings, and it’s helpful to keep the relationships straight – but apart from that, no in-laws. My problem was that I was spending ages tracing “non-relatives” because they had an easy name or stayed in one place for several generations, instead of concentrating on finding my own blood lines, and filling in the gaps in the lines that I have. That’s not to say I won’t go back to them, and I’ve still got the notes on the really good stuff!


5 Greta Koehl March 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I strongly believe in researching collateral lines. I don’t go crazy with very distant connections, but I like to take care of “reverse orphans” and get a good idea of what all of my direct ancestors’ sibling’s families were like. This has paid off in finding out more about my direct lines.


6 Kim March 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I trace branches as well. I normally trace a generation or two of cousins family’s, more if I can find the info with out to much trouble. I also trace the female lines in my family. By doing this I’ve been able to find cousins researching the same lines, I might not have found otherwise.


7 Steven March 12, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I too enjoy letting the tree run wild! I agree with Susan in the fact that sometimes I need a distraction from my own brick walls so working on a cousin of a cousin can be gratifying when I’m frustrated by what I can’t find on bloodlines.

In the early days of for me I linked and ‘borrowed’ from everyone’s trees without a second thought. Now – I use them as a guideline and try to validate before I borrow. When I find a user with incorrect information I notify them of my reasonings.

I look forward to reading your blog!


8 Sue McCormick March 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm

I agree with you; if there is a connection, that person appears in my (personal) tree. My online tress are a bit more selective, but the selection doesn’t depend upon the directness of the relation. In my personal tree, anyone I hear of is (tentatively) included. I CLEARLY indicate where there is a lack of research and sources. My public trees have, as a bare minimum, one or more census records to indicate that the person existed. But the connection may be the husband of the sister of the wife of my second cousin twice removed. Partly this is because family groups may well be the way around brick walls; mostly it’s because I’m interested. My main research, however, concentrates on the direct lines.


9 Theresa Casteel March 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Some of my brickwalls were overcome by doing collateral research. I include every and everbody because you never know…..
Theresa (Tangled Trees)


10 Dee March 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm

My tree is a wild one. I had originally started with just direct-line ancestors, but all the other people kept popping up. More often than not, researching them shed light on my direct-line people. So I started including everyone since you never know when they might hold the key to a mystery. That and I have difficulty ignoring information I come across, no matter how random.


11 Jan Verkade March 30, 2011 at 6:54 am

I have strictly adhered to direct ancestor and descendants. To be honest, the exception of this rule is the siblings of my generation and the siblings of my parent’s generation. Still the number of people keeps growing till over 800 already. A quick irrelevant calculations tells you that this equals an average 10 generations, but of course some lines reach further than others. My longest line reaches 25 generations back in time into the 12th century.


12 Bob Hutchins April 12, 2011 at 4:16 am

My paternal ancestors come from a small area in North Hampshire, many marriages were to the same families sometimes several generations later, so my research, having traced my paternal line back to the early 1600′s is to trace all the branches and the families that married into them. I used to take it even wider, but now tend only to add distant twigs of twigs if I am contacted by their descendants. In some cases I cannot always trace a line back to the original ancestor when I look at my data as I have gone so far across.

Doing the twigs can often help break down a brick wall, as you have already eliminated some of the possibilities by that stage. After 5 years research I have over 31,000 names and still growing fast.


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