Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with genealogy is probably aware of the meme sweeping social media: the #MyColorfulGeneaolgy family chart that looks like this:
It’s a pretty nifty way of displaying your ancestors’ places of birth.
I played around with this, using a template pretty similar to the one above. However, I wanted to go one step further. I know, what a surprise! However, almost all of my ancestors have been in the United States from more than the 5 generation template that has been widely circulated. I can also trace my ancestry back much further than 5 or 6 generations on some of my ancestral lines.
Last, but not least, while I wanted to do something fun…I also wanted a working document. Something that I could print and put on the wall to refer to, inspire and/or goad me.
So I came up with the chart below:
My main addition to the standard meme is including county names. I’ve found it interesting – and helpful! – to see how my direct ancestors moved around within the state where they were born. It’s as meaningful to me as seeing how they moved from one state to another. The flip side is seeing just how long some of my ancestors stayed in the same place.
A few things leapt out at me when I finished. Edgefield County in South Carolina, and Northampton County in North Carolina, are deeply rooted in my mum’s family. Her family lived in both counties for generations. They also had a habit of marrying cousins for a long stretch of time in the counties where they lived. This habit of marrying cousins, or marrying only within a specific community, is referred to as endogamy. There’s quite a bit of endogamy on my mum’s side of the family tree – on both the white and black sides of her family tree. It’s part and parcel of why I’m related to pretty much anyone with roots in either Northampton County or Edgefield County.
On my Dad’s side? Well, he’s pure Old Dominion. His ancestors were in Virginia pretty much from Day 1. There is a fairly even split in the parts of Virginia associated with his parents. His father’s ancestors can be found in southwestern Virginia. His mother’s ancestors are linked more with north, central and the Tidewater regions of Virginia.
If you look at both sides of my family tree, there are three stark differences.
- The first is the amount of grey on each side of my tree. The colour grey indicates information that’s unknown. On my mum’s side of the family, I am blessed with working with a multitude of cousins who are all active in piecing together the broken branches of our family tree. Information is readily exchanged/shared. I can’t begin to tell you the difference this information sharing means to family researchers. Well, I actually don’t have to tell you. Just look at the image above. There is far less grey on my maternal line. The big exception to this is with my mum’s father. While I know bits and pieces about his father – via DNA testing – I don’t know his name. His entire lineage is a huge blank.
I simply don’t have many genealogy-enthusiastic cousins on my dad’s side of the family. The number of cousins who have taken DNA tests on his side of the family are few and far in-between. It really does make all the difference.
- The second thing to note is the difference between what’s known about my European-descended ancestry and what’s known about my African-descended ancestry. The majority of those grey spaces are associated with unknown African-descended ancestors. Some were enslaved. Other’s were free. Both have their challenges when it comes to family research.
All of those 8th generation ancestral places? Those are for my European ancestral lines.
- The third thing this image conveys is that men fare better than women in my tree. This is regardless of race. As soon as I hit the 1700’s, I start losing the trail for the European-descended women in my tree. Maiden names begin to disappear and the trail runs cold. Sure, there’s plenty of active speculation to read online. There are precious few facts. So these women remain ‘end of line’ ancestors – or brick walls.
Each on of those grey squares and rectangles represents a brick wall. I think the image above conveys just how effectively a genealogy brick wall blocks accessing to learning anything further about an ancestral line. It’s quite stark when you look at it like this.
And yes…those blocks of grey are like silent accusations. It’s like they’re saying “Come on Mr Smartypants, solve me already!”