A Family Historian

Where do I stop?

In Paternal, Process on 18 Oct 2010 at 10:00 am

One of the developments in my tree after visiting my grandfather was the addition of information on his second wife.  In a world with more blended families than most people are willing to admit, it’s brought up a lot of questions for me as to what “family” means.

I was lucky, I believe, to have grown up with 7 grandparents.  Both sets of biological grandparents divorced before I was born, and all but one remarried.  As a result, all of the “step” grandparents were, for my entire life, my grandparents.  I always knew which ones were related by blood, but we visited all of them every Christmas.  And when one died, I cried just as hard as I did when my blood-related grandparent passed away.  So they were always “family” to me.

Fast forward to last month, where I am sitting around the table with my grandpa and (step) grandma.  We were obviously focused on his family, with existing data and plenty of questions.  I had already found his divorce record and second marriage record thanks to the impressive California Index of modern vital records.  Yet even those only showed Grandma’s married name, not her maiden name nor her first husband’s name.  So after delving into the crucial meat of my biological info, I turned to her and asked if she’d mind sharing some of her information as well.

Though taken aback slightly, she slowly opened up about her first husband.  We started talking about her parents and entering information into the tree.  Grandpa was getting into it, and but when we got to her step-mother, we got a few layers in and ran into a snag.  I commented that it wasn’t a crucial search since she wasn’t actually related, then realized my mistake.  She, however, knew the difference.  She relayed how no, she never felt her step-mom was family, and as a child whose mother had been taken by TB, kept asking when her “real” mom was coming back.  Ouch!

Through the rest of the afternoon, we made wonderful headway on her biological parents and grandparents.  I got enough background on her family that, since then, I’ve been able to research her kin more and more, particularly interesting since it’s allowed more experience with Ohio and earlier California records than I’ve needed for my biological family to date.

Yet as I add layers of her family, including siblings and cousins, I question, when should I stop?  It seems like genealogical focus tends toward those of blood relation and often stop at the ones who marry into the family.  A part of me wants to know how we are all connected, following Elizabeth Shown Mills, “We Are All Cousins.”  But how is that best done in the tree itself?  Should I actually start a separate tree for her blood relations?  Is it somehow disingenuous to include her relations in a count of the people in my tree, particularly since I don’t know any of her extended family and somehow doubt they consider me family of their own?

For now, I will leave her families data in my tree.  Since I am still investigating Mac genealogy software, I will use the case as a point to compare packages to see if/how the data could be sequestered at a later date.  Furthermore, I must admit my curiosity about pursuing professional accreditation so this seems like an opportunity to flesh out some of the issues others face and to see how I enjoy researching a (kinda) unrelated tree as my husband has suggested.  In my mind, everything, especially at this early stage of research, is a learning experience.

  1. Interesting question. I tend to include information if the family or the person played an important role in the family that is related to me. Also, families with more than one person who married into my families usually merit something more than the perfunctory basics. You never know when knowing “a bit more” might provide some important information that ends up being useful later in your research.

  2. I do as Greta has mentioned and include information on families that played an important role in the family history – or at least that’s where I started! But now I research back as I have time even those people that might not have had such a big part in the family, but were still connected. To me it comes down to time more than anything.

    Bottom line – I think it all boils down to what we each want to do – that’s the thing about genealogy/family history…it’s very personal…which of course it what make it so much fun!

  3. I’ve been researching my family tree for 30 years. After a while it was very apparent that there were valuable clues in looking at “cluster genealogy”. After researching sibling’s marriages, cousin’s marriages, step children and step mothers, etc. I broke many brick walls. I have several examples of stepsiblings marrying in my lineage, and of parents who remarried their children’s in-laws. Sounds weird, but that’s how marriages worked in colonial times, and even later in many parts of the world.

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