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Thursday, October 16, A.D. 2008

What are your family’s origins?

Over the summer, Andrew got hooked on, and he became an apostle for genealogical research. I finally relented and signed up for the service myself. It is rather expensive, but you instantly have access to genealogical databases throughout the world, with more information added each day. It has become much easier to explore your roots.

If you are interested in trying, the service offers a fourteen day free trial. Thereafter, you can pay by the month, by the quarter, or by the year. The price lessens with each step, of course. As such, I signed up for the World Deluxe annual package for a hefty sum of $299.40. You can also buy the cheaper U.S. Deluxe package, but then you will not have access to overseas data. If you simply want to use the online family tree maker and sharer, you can sign up for a free membership.

I have been very pleased with the deal. You have access not just to the information but to scans of the actual historical documents on file. You can look at the census records and learn peculiar facts about your ancestors, their whole household, and their neighbors. You can look at the ship registries for the voyages on which they came to America. also allows you to mark any documents so that they become part of your library. You can download and save everything onto a drive, but you do not have to do so.

The general layout, search engine, and tree making tools are easy to learn and to use. When I was considering a membership, I read reviews of the service online, and the only complaint that everyone has is with regard to the tree navigation. To jump generations while you are surveying the tree requires several links and consequent page uploads. It seems that some script or code could make this aspect of the site more user friendly. Evidently, there is family tree making software, both for purchase and freeware available online, to which you can download your information. I have read that these software packages are easy to manage, but I have not bothered with them, yet. In the future, I’ll likely format my family tree with software into something presentable for the family. Should you do the same, you’ll become a minor celebrity at family gatherings. Have you ever considered being your clan’s memory, archivist, story teller, and keeper of names?

As one might expect, most of the current documentation is Anglo-American. You will have a harder time tracking down ancestors the less British your origins happen to be. With every new membership and new day, though, more records from around the world are added. Am I preaching now? Perhaps, I should look up Amways, but then they are even more cultic than Scientologists and Saturn owners . . . well, maybe not more than Saturn owners.

You need to be able to trace your ancestry back around three or four generations to get the genealogical ball rolling. only provides census records until 1930 out of privacy concerns for the living, and other contemporary documentation is hard to get without first knowing a lot about the person whom you wish to find. To get past this hurdle, consult the oldest living family members, family bibles and records, and talk to your family’s current unofficial memory keepers. By adding this information, you may help other relatives in the future trace their backgrounds. Likewise, you can upload family photographs and information that you have. I found a photograph of my great, great, great grandparents that someone else had uploaded. Many people have added cemetery pictures, too.

Beware of bad information. There are two ways of tracing lineage: (1) by working backward through each generation via documentation, and (2) by considering other people’s family trees. The first method is tedious but assured, while the second is a matter of trust. You have to use a combination of the two to get back far, but with’s data and with the internet in general, you can test the reliability of others’ family trees.

For example, I worked my way back to a Virginian, James Sears, who was born in A.D. 1720 in Gloucester County. On many family trees that I found, James’ parents were listed as William and Sarah, also of Virginia. Yet, I found that the exact identification of William was controversial, and I do not know which William he was. However, some family trees listed the Virginian William as the son of the Massachusetts Sears, which led the pedigree enthusiasts back to early Puritan settlers and to the Mayflower. None of these connections were validated by independent research online. So, as far as I know, I have no Plymouth ancestors. It’s a pity; Thanksgiving could have been more interesting this year . . .

I did find, however, that I am of Jamestown stock. I find this a relief, as I have always had a distaste for the Puritans and the whole cold Calvinist New England scene, while I am fond of colonial Virginia. The Virginians just seem to have known how to live more reasonably than the Massachusetts fanatics. One of my ancestors was Richard Henry Lee, who came over from England, was married in Jamestown, and is the ancestor of the famous Lees of American history, including a later Richard Henry Lee, Light Horse Harry Lee, and Robert E. Lee—all distant cousins of mine. The immigrant Lee and the subsequent Lee family in America claimed descent from the Lees of Shropshire, England, but there are scholars who dispute Lee’s claim, thinking that he was further removed from the titled Lees by a couple of generations. Coton Hall of Shropshire was the home of the Lees since at least the 1300’s, but sadly it was sold in 2003. If the traditional lineage is accepted, I am a descendant of the first three Earls of Arundel and of Queen Adeliza of Leuven, wife of Henry I of England, with whom she had no children. She afterward married William d’Aubigny, the first Earl of Arundel. Everyone must have both peasants and kings in his ancestry if he goes back far enough.

Other than that minor complaint about the family tree’s linking navigation, I am happy with and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning his ancestral background.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, October 16, Anno Domini 2008
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