Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aspen Tree Genealogy

"Aspen Trees" By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
     Are you familiar with the Aspen tree? Aspen trees are unusual. Unlike other trees, Aspens grow in colonies, spreading out from their roots. New trees pop up as far away as 130 feet from the “parent” tree. Aspen colonies can be very old: one in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old. They can also expand quickly, spreading over three feet each year. 
     So what does this have to do with genealogy and family history? A lot. 
     When it comes to creating a family tree, some folks are only interested in their direct line ancestors and eschew siblings. When you look at their tree you can only assume that they come from a long line of only children. Very fortunate for them! 
     Their tree is truly a tree. Actually, it's kind of more like a stick than a tree: one single stalk with very few, if any branches. 
     But those of us who want to know all about our ancestors add everyone in the family tree and end up with something more like a thicket of Aspens! 
     I am a fan of adding in those side branches and off-shoots. Part of the reason is that I want to know all about my ancestors, and that includes all of their family. I want to know who they lived with, played with, worked with, and fought with. I want to know who shared their griefs and triumphs. I want to know who they went to for a loan, to watch the kids, or to help with rebuilding.
     It helps to know that my direct ancestor was the oldest child, the youngest child, the oldest son, etc. One of my direct ancestors accused his wife of infidelity and claimed that the youngest son she “presented to him” was not his. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the questionable youngest son was my direct ancestor! 
     (For any of my family reading this blog, fear not. I have this mess all sorted out for us, and that youngest son was legitimate. His dad just went a bit crazy.) 
     But there are other reasons to consider turning your family tree into an Aspen grove. Here are a few reasons that I came up with while considering this question: 

Siblings of your direct ancestor

The siblings of your direct ancestor can help you find the family before and after your direct ancestor is born or leaves home. Knowing that Amanda was the youngest sister of Mary, Henry, John, Simon, and George helped me to find the family in the years before she was born. And lucky me, her paternal grandparents lived with the family in 1850, so I used that information to extend the family tree back a generation. Without her sisters and brothers I might never have been able to find that information. 
The siblings can help you find the family, including your direct ancestor, when misspellings occur or when the transcriptionist makes an error in transcribing a document, or when a document is poorly indexed. My father, for instance, was indexed incorrectly as “John P.” His middle name is “Robert.” But when I found the family with brother Bill, and sisters Mary Jo, Pat, Jackie, and Gerri I knew that I had the right folks. 
Siblings can also help you identify that you have the right family when you find more than one which meets your basic criteria. If you find that sister Susan and brother Thomas were in will “A” but not in will “B” then it is more likely that the family you want is the one in will “A.” This was true of my search for Nathan Eakman – it was only the list of children that told me the John who died in 1857 was the wrong one and directed me to look at the John who died in 1844 – the right ancestor. 
Spouses of the siblings of your direct ancestor 

Knowing who the siblings married, particularly the husbands of sisters, can help you trace aging parents, orphaned children, “troubled” children who were sent off to live with other members of the family, or other situations when families were split up. This happened in my Tasker family when Ida died and John’s children were scattered among his family and friends after the house burned down (how is THAT for a lousy run of luck?!)
Knowing who the grown siblings are and who they married can also help explain why your direct ancestor’s family seemingly up and moved to some random place. This was true for Hannah Eakman who moved more than 30 miles – a single mother with three children under the age of ten in the late 1860s. Knowing that she moved closer to a married sister helped to explain her otherwise inexplicable relocation. 
The names of in-laws also can help to connect your direct ancestor’s business partners, guardians, executors, those who stood as surety for him or her, co-owners of land, people to whom they sold land or from whom they purchased it, first names in letters who are mentioned over and over, and more. Recent research for a client was moved forward when I began looking for the wife’s siblings even though he didn’t care about any maternal lines and didn’t want me to research any of them. Turns out that the father and brother of the wife were business partners of her husband and many of the records were indexed under their names instead of his. 
More Aspen tree connections 
     Below is a list of possible “sideways” extension to your family tree. Which of these do YOU include in your family thicket of Aspens? Why? Do you have others which you have found to be of use to you? 

  • Siblings of direct ancestors 
  • Half-siblings 
  • Step-siblings 
  • Parents of step-parents 
  • Spouses of siblings 
  • Children of siblings 
  • Parents of the spouses of siblings 
  • Spouses of the children of siblings 

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