"Family Tree" can have so many meanings. I don't propose to offer a definition, but rather to reflect on my travels in amateur genealogy.
In an earlier blog I commented on the need to discover how many first cousins I had as the starting point for my interest in the family tree. Had I known then that I was standing on the event horizon of a black hole and about to be sucked in, I might have hesitated, but counting up first cousins on my mother's side seemed an innocuous enough activity, and I did not hesitate.
I tracked down addresses (a task in itself as I had not kept in contact with most of them) and sent off to my first cousins a little form, asking them to fill in the information, which was quite simple and quite limited. Full name, date and place of birth, marriage. Same details about their parents, children and grandchildren. This activity generated a lot of names, and two surprises. One surprise was that some people are not so much uninterested in family history as actively rejecting of it. I had thought that everyone would be at least MILDLY interested. The other is that the apparently pleasant virtual meadow I was strolling through was in fact a minefield. With these surprises I came to understand that collecting family information was NOT an innocuous pastime.
The stack of completed questionnaires - and everyone did in the end send me their information and that of their families - started to look unmanageable, and I recalled the comment of an amateur genealogist on my father's side, who said that if it weren't for the fact that many of the lines he was tracing were "without issue," he would have required a three-dimensional approach to writing up my paternal grandfather's family tree.
At this point, I saw family tree software in a local Office Depot, and purchased it. Within weeks, with information continuing to flow in, I had outgrown it, and was trying out another program, Brother's Keeper, which offered a free trial of a limited version of the program, with the full program plus documentation to be purchased if satisfied. I was indeed satisfied, and this - with several no-cost updates and several helpful responses to queries from their customer service people - is what I have used ever since. Comparisons of the multitude of genealogy software offerings are available by googling "Comparisons of Genealogy Software." Suffice to say that I am satisfied with my choice and don't propose to change. Brother's Keeper has a unique advantage in that it is the same software used by the GRANDMA Project, of which more later.
About a year after I started collecting cousin information I realized I might profit from some professional instruction, so I took a short genealogy course which was offered by a local community centre. It helped, in that I learned a few things about documenting people which required that I go back to the beginning and change everybody's entry: All women are entered under their maiden names, and all surnames are capitalized. This entailed changes in only a few hundred people. A dozen years later - now - it would have been over 23,000. And all those people are connected to me - that's a basic idea I stayed with. The connection may be distant but all are connected.
One of the many printouts of the family history data is an ancestry tree which shows minimal information on an individual and that individual's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents - 33 people in a tree-like graphic. After more than a dozen years of doing this, I have perhaps 40 (out of 23,000-plus) individual family trees complete to the great-greats. This has been done essentially without recourse to direct research myself.
Early on, I told myself that when the flow of family information from others ceased, I would then address myself to learning how to do online reaearch, and spend time at the local Family History Centre looking up kin on birth, marriage and death records and census records. I am still, after these years, waiting for that cessation of information flow. At least weekly I receive new information which has to be entered into the data base, with printouts of the resulting family trees needing to be sent to the source of the information. I have begun to think that doing my own research isn't in the cards. People I have connected with in the course of my genealogical interest have travelled to England and Poland and the Ukraine for the specific purpose of tracking their roots at the source; others have delved into the resources of the Internet, or visited that icon of genealogy, Salt Lake City. Not I. I just sit here like a spider in the middle of her web, waiting for prey - that is, family data - to come to me.
Isn't it odd how someone else's passion looks a lot like work? It doesn't look like that to the person driven by that passion! Family Tree Part II will explore the fun of genealogy.