Someone else may have already researched a branch of your family history. The answers you’re looking for may be just waiting for you to discover and graft onto your family tree.
In the past, you might never know if you were duplicating some other genealogist’s research. Today, thanks to CD-ROMs and the Internet, it’s possible to share discoveries and even to download whole sections of your family tree. Enormous pedigree databases made up of family files from thousands of genealogists around the world make it easier than ever before to collaborate with other researchers and benefit from their findings. Your family tree can grow by dozens, even hundreds of names with just a few clicks
Here we look at 10 pedigree databases containing nearly 285 million names—among them, perhaps, some of your ancestors. Information in these files typically includes not only names, but also dates and places of birth, marriage and death, and sometimes biographical sketches and even pictures. Individuals are linked together in families so, once you make a connection, you can instantly extend your pedigree back several generations. You’ll also find the name and address of the submitter, who may be able to provide additional details.
Strategies for successful searching
Most pedigree databases let you search on a name and a year of birth. You might start by searching for your earliest known ancestor in each line. But if you don’t find a particular individual, don’t stop there. A few proven search strategies will help you make the best use of pedigree databases:
- Try alternate spellings such as Myers, Meyers and Mejer. Some pedigree databases automatically show similarly spelled names, while others require an exact match.
- Search on the names of your ancestors’ siblings or other relatives. Even though your ancestors don’t show up in the file, their close relatives might be listed.
- If the surname is rare, make note of any matches you find, no matter where the individuals lived. My Schaubhut ancestors came from Pennsylvania, and I just found someone researching the Schaubhut family in Louisiana. As it turns out, our lines connect in Germany and we have much common ancestry.
- If it’s a common surname, search on the surname combined with a place name and time period. Some pedigree databases let you narrow your search to a certain state or range of years. The name Adams is so common that I focus on the families that lived in New Hampshire, especially in the town of Moultonborough in the late 18th century.
Mining the database for all possible connections will greatly increase your chances of finding useful information.
Dealing with your discoveries
Once you find matches, most pedigree databases let you print family group sheets, pedigree charts and other forms. Usually you can also create a GEDCOM file—the universal exchange format for computerized genealogy data—for use with family tree software; you can import these results directly into your genealogy program with no tedious typing. You may be able to select certain individuals for inclusion in the GEDCOM file, such as one person’s ancestors or descendants. Sometimes you have to download the submitter’s entire file.
But don’t assume that everything you find in a pedigree database is accurate. Before adding the new information to your existing family file, create a new, separate file for it. Look over the new file to see if it looks plausible. Do the dates make sense? Do you find unlikely or impossible situations, like parents having children at a very young or old age? Is there any documentation of sources to show where the information was found? Citations to original records, such as birth certificates, census records and wills, bolster the file’s credibility. Information from published histories and family tradition is helpful, but these sources are more prone to error. If no sources are cited, you should remain skeptical until you find reliable evidence to back up each claim.
Next, contact the submitter of the file for more information, copies of records and the names of other researchers interested in the same families.