Saturday, March 12, 2011

Open Discussion Weekend: Ancestor Overload - Good or Bad?

This has been a rather amazing week for me in genealogy. It's been such an amazing week that I'm peddling as fast as I can to get caught up on my blogging.

Why so amazing? The ancestors are coming at me from all directions!

When I first started blogging, my purpose was to post some queries in hopes of finding descendants of affiliated and related families. 15 months later, a second cousin, twice removed, responded to my very first blog post, indicating she was descended from the woman whose family I was trying to trace.

Last weekend, the California line of a related family was all together scanning and uploading photographs and documents to their tree on - I could barely keep up with everything they were posting. After this line of the family being elusive for so long, it's like the gold rush of family history!

A few days ago, another "cousin" sent me another batch of zipped folders with photographs of the various Petersen families. And they did not have small families! I have to have my charts handy to keep track of all of them. This took me back to the Danish Demographic Database once again. In a short time, I took my line back one more generation for certain, and possibly one more beyond that. These census records are beyond compare if you have ancestors from Denmark.

Then, last evening, the DNA results from 23andMe showed up, which may lead to potentially hundreds of more kin out there!

Open Discussion

Have you ever had a week like this? How did you handle the overload of incoming information? Did you jump around from ancestor to ancestor, euphoric about everything coming your way? Or did you methodically develop a plan for processing all of the new information and documents? How did you set your priorities for evaluating new information?

Genealogists often talk about our frustration with brick walls. What about frustration over Ancestor Overload? This is a good thing, right?

Please post your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below. I look forward to reading what you have to say.


  1. Susan - Such an interesting post. Yes, I feel this way all the time. I have so much information sometimes I feel like I need to step back and evaluate what I've got before I move on to more research. I tend to be the type of person who researches fewer people but in great detail. I don't think I'll ever have a huge tree. I'm okay with that. I love the hunt and the clues and the details. I'm also not on a schedule. My only "brick wall" is my lack of time.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Yep, Ancestor Overload is right where I am also. Just a few weeks ago I began speaking to a woman in my genealogy group with the same last name as my great grandma and - you guessed it - a connection! She introduced me to her cousin who told me about the Swedish church records just newly available at Ancestry.

    In just a couple of days I was able to get back to my 5th great grandparents, find their births, marriages, household examinations, etc. Those Swedes did keep good records and I am grateful to them for that! After the excitement wore off I realized this was an overwhelming task, between the sheer number of people and trying to read (using that term very loosely) Swedish.

    But at first I was so excited to actually FIND relatives, my great-great grandparents and beyond I just kept searching further back, no real strategy. Papers were everywhere and I could not keep anything organized. It was Decision Time. Should I search one set of records for all the families or search one family backwards, finish them and start with the next fam?

    I decided that for me the best way will be to concentrate on one family at a time, searching all the records for that family before moving onto the next family. I will finish my direct lines, then begin on the the siblings of all my gg grands. Someday ....

  3. This is an ongoing issue for me as well. Once the initial euphoria has worn off, I first move into "To Do List" mode. This way I get down what needs to be looked at in the future. Then I develop a plan to process and analyze.

    As for how I prioritize. It depends on things like whether someone is waiting for me to get back to them, what interests me or even what I can get knocked off the list quickly and easily.

    Yes, Ancestor Overload is a really good thing! The problem I have is that best laid plans frequently get derailed. Life gets in the way.
    That's where the original "To Do List" comes in handy.

    In this wonderful world where digitized copies of original records are being made more accessible every day, Ancestor Overload is a bigger issue than it was back in the old days.

  4. I know that feeling! I am actually holding off on contacting potential cousins I've found on the Internet because I would just be overwhelmed if they started sharing!

  5. Ah, Susan - I was tempted to chime in "Welcome to my life!" I've had weeks like this on a number of occasions, and this past year overall has seen a number of breakthroughs or influxes of information. This is why I wrote the post "Fast and Slow" ( At first I jump from family to family like crazy; even now, when I have "slowed down," I don't really stick with a single project for a long period of time. I'll transcribe court documents on one family until that becomes tiresome, then input information on another family for a while, etc. But it's mostly for four families right now, and I'm keeping a "To Do" list, adding items to it as I go, and following up on them. I think it's a good place to be, but it isn't easy maintaining discipline, that's for sure!

  6. Yes, I know the feeling too.

    I've gotten sporadic comments and emails from my online family tree in the last four years - perhaps once or twice a month. Some of those folks have become regular emailers, and we share info and photos back and forth.

    Dee at Shakin' the Family Tree
    But since I started my genealogy blog, I get three or four contacts a week. I always reply as soon as I can, because cousins reaching out are not people I want to feel unwelcome. One of the wonderful trends I've noticed is an increase in the number of twenty- and thrity-somethings who are really digging in to their family histories.

    I've started subdividing folders in my email account for various surnames in the tree...

    And hoping I am keeping up.

  7. Another good topic of discussion. Too much information and not enough time, where to prioritize is difficult too. For an entire year, my blog was the most important thing, now it is getting a handle on my research, and I don't blog as much. Susan and Greta, you wrote excellent posts, they show your readers how many of us have the same problem.
    When a cousin contacted me from Hawaii the other day, the back and forth communications took a lot of time, before I could write the was fun, but sometimes I just want to turn the faucet off.