Climbing your never-ending family tree

7 Generation Pedigree Chart with sample projects indicated.

Your family tree is never really finished! It is forever growing on both ends. New descendants of your ancestors are continually being born (even if not to you, personally), and no matter how many branches and leaves you’ve added in the past, there are always more for you to discover.

It's important to define your genealogy project, so you (or I) don’t work endlessly and randomly. Click To Tweet

As a genealogy service provider, it’s important for me to be able to define my scope of work for a client project. It’s also important for YOU, if you are the researcher in your family, to keep your goals in mind, and define your genealogy project, so you don’t work endlessly and randomly.

Take a look at this 7-generation pedigree chart. In only 6 generations (excluding yourself as the 1st generation) you have 126 direct ancestors! In the 7th generation alone you have 64 4X great grandparents whose DNA eventually played an equal part in making YOU! Just imagine how many more ancestors in earlier generations are waiting for you to find them! Not to mention if you include all the children, and siblings, and in-laws of all the ancestors! (Which, actually, is important to do, as each ancestor has their own FAN club — Family/Friends, Associates, and Neighbors — which should not be overlooked, and in particular can be valuable for breaking through brick walls or, as we call them here in New Mexico, adobe walls…but I digress…)

7 Generation Pedigree Chart with sample projects indicated.

Going Wide / Going Deep / Focusing

Everyone has a different motivation for taking a closer look at their family history. As a researcher, I like to say, “I can go wide, I can go deep, or I can focus,” as indicated on the chart.

You might want to “go wide” if…

…you are starting from not much and want to know more about your whole family.

…you want a nicely filled-out pedigree chart for yourself, or for someone you love.

You might want to “go deep” if…

…you are curious about where one particular branch of your family came from.

…you want to know how your family fits into historical context.

…you want to learn about migration patterns, naming patterns, or family businesses.

You might want to “focus” on one ancestor, or location, or time period if…

…one of them is noteworthy or mysterious.

…there is a family story you’d like to prove or disprove.

…you’d like to know more about the place, time, activities, and life of an ancestor.

And what about DNA testing? Ah, that’s a topic for another post. Stay tuned!

Climbing your family tree

To define the scope of work for a client, I usually provide my services in terms of “projects”. The chart indicates a few equivalent sample projects. Each job is unique as to how much the client already knows, what they want to find out more about, and what resources are available for researching their specific family. The cost of a project does not imply a fixed number of hours, only a bite-sized piece of the overwhelming, never-ending larger PROJECT. (An image of Jack and the Beanstalk just popped into my head.) The Org4life Genealogy Client Agreement discusses what you can expect of me in terms of Scope of Work and Deliverables, including report sections and delivery method options. It also describes the ways in which I will ask for your Insight, Patience, and Understanding.

Telling the story

Many clients are so intrigued with their initial report that they ask for additional projects. If we “went wide” the first time, they may choose to “go deep” the next time. Or, maybe the next project will be to spend extra time adding more personal and colorful details in the form of photos, stories, and historical context. After all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The stories?

If I stumble upon a photo of your ancestor that you’ve never seen, I’ll include it in your initial report as a little bonus. And I can piece together a story from the details I find in the census and various other records. Sometimes I find a newspaper clipping or biography. But if you want, I can go digging for more. If you have photos and other memorabilia at home, by all means, let’s see them! What’s a photo without the story? And, conversely, what are names and dates and pedigree charts without photos?

DIY Genealogy

You can take the same approach if you want to do it yourself.

What questions do you have about your family? Do you want to go wide, go deep, or focus?

How are you going to manage your project?

Do you need to stop “climbing your tree” for awhile, and start telling your family’s story?

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to DIY, read Puzzling Out Your Family History.

If you want to read more about organizing your family history research, check out my Genealogy Resource Roundup and check back often for updates!

I’d love to know your thoughts. Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Copyright 2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
I welcome social media links directly to this page!
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  1. Seana turner on April 29, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    Wow, I love this Hazel. Looks like something an engineer would put together 🙂 Creating individual projects makes all the sense in the world because there are no clear beginning and end points. Definitely a process for someone who loves working in a methodical way. It’s been fun to see the surge of interest in geneologies!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      An engineer, yes, but also an engineer who has recently had to explain to someone who wasn’t “getting” it that I didn’t know how long it would take, but there would be no extra charge. The key was to stop calling it a “package” (which includes the deliverables) and instead call it a “project” (which also includes the deliverables), with the option of adding more small projects (which was always the case). So, same thing to me, but it made all the difference in the world to her. Glad you approve! 🙂

  2. Janet Schiesl on April 29, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Many years ago my sister put together a pretty extensive family tree. She went wide and deep. I’d like to take a few early family members and focus on them since she did so much work already in laying out the tree. Very interesting way to look at it.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 30, 2019 at 8:49 am

      Which ancestor (or nuclear family) intrigues you the most?

  3. Janet Barclay on April 30, 2019 at 3:53 am

    That makes a lot of sense! I signed up for MyHeritage mainly because I wanted a tool to keep track of my father’s extended family. I immediately discovered a ton of information about my maternal grandfather’s ancestors. In fact, every week, I receive notifications about that branch of my family. Aside from the fact that I’m not sufficiently committed to this hobby to pay for the level of membership I’d need to access the details, it’s just way beyond my level of interest at this point in time. It goes back really far though, so I could see that changing after I retire and have more time to get into it.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 30, 2019 at 8:54 am

      Most genealogists are, indeed, retired. You are missing out on the fun now, but on the other hand, the longer you wait, the more records will have been digitized and put online for you to find!

  4. Glenda on May 4, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    I would like the cost to me. I have done extensive but, not throughly and would like to find out how much it would cost & how much more info I can find out about my ancestory?

    • Hazel Thornton on May 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Hi Glenda! The current cost of a “project” is $300. Feel free to schedule a 20-min call to discuss. (Email works too!)

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Go With the Flow! (The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook)

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