August 17, 2012

What's Your Number? Don't Be Too Shocked if It's Below 30%!

Did you know that with each generation your number of ancestors doubles? For example you have 2 parents, 4 (2x2) grandparents, 8 (4x2) great-grandparents, 16 (8x2) 2nd great grandparents and so on.

By the time you reach your 7th great-grandparents you will have a total of 1,024 ancestors. Phew!

Now that doesn't mean these are all unique individuals, in fact is is almost certain that you will find cousins marrying cousins, perhaps uncles marrying nieces as you go further back. That means that even though we all have 1,024 ancestors at this point in our family tree, there are probably duplicates. See Pyramid vs Diamond Theory of Ancestry for more on this fascinating topic, but I want to talk about something different in this blog post.

Recently my friend Lisa B. Lee of GotGenealogy posted on her Facebook Status that of the 1,024 possible ancestors in her family tree (going back 10 generations to her 7th great-grandparents) she has only found 77. That's 7.5%.

Now Lisa is not a novice at genealogy research. She's a very good genealogist and has been researching for many years. But the number not found surprised her! I was intrigued but before I could figure out my own numbers, I happened to read Crista Cowan's blog post called "Family History All Done? What's Your Number?" on the Ancestry.com newsletter. Crista also figured out how many ancestors she has found so far, again going back the same 10 generations.

Before I tell you the numbers remember that Crista is an experienced professional genealogist. She knows what she's doing! Well Crista's total number out of 1,024 was 365. That's 36% Crista still has 64% not yet found.

Okay it was my turn. I'll set the scene by saying I consider myself an experienced genealogist. I've been researching for more than 30 years. Like Crista and Lisa, I know what I'm doing and I am fanatical about finding my ancestors. Well I did the numbers and here's a chart showing my results:

Generation Number of Ancestors My Numbers
7th great 512 81
6th great 256 60
5th great 128 47
4th great 64 46
3rd great 3230
2nd great 1616
1st great 88
Grandparents44
Parents 22

Out of 1024 possible ancestors I have found 295 for a total of 29%. What a surprise and yes, a shock! I knew I was stuck on my Irish ancestors. I knew I could only get back to my 2nd great grandparents on several of those ancestors from Ireland but I had no idea I had so many not found.

I'm doing okay with my family tree until I hit my 4th great grandparents. That takes me back to about 1800 so I've pretty much got my family tree covered for the last 200 years. After that it gets sketchy!

Not having a high percentage of found ancestors is obviously not related to how experienced a genealogist you are or how long you've been researching, so there's no shame attached to a low number. It's just an interesting exercise that points out that genealogy research is never done! And that's what makes genealogy so much fun and so addictive. There's always something more to find.

And now if you'll excuse me I'm off to find my missing 71%!

21 comments:

Tim Campbell said...

Mine is 7.5% and my wife's is 44.6%. Mind you, I can hardly go beyond 6 generations. My wife, on the otherhand, can trace her paternal line back 18 generations and her maternal line 20.

Peter said...

It is probably a matter of how you argue but by the time you reach your 7th great-grandparents, I think you have 1024 ancestors. 1023 would leave one of them alone :)
And now I'm off calculating my percentage.

Rosemary said...

Mine is 6.836%. I can only go back to the 7th generation and it doesn't help any that Gt Grandmother Elizabeth neglected to tell anyone who were the fathers (plural) of her 4 children. Grandpa was the only one to live past childhood.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Peter, so glad someone's watching me and catching my typos! My chart shows the correct number but I see that all the way through the post I gave the wrong one. Oops!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Tim I'll have to do my husband's and see how he fares! I think he'll be lower than me but maybe not

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Rosemary that's the fun of genealogy isn't it? Solving those mysteries!

Peter said...

Lorine, also without your typoos I'll be reading your blog very carefully!
I owe you my percentage. It is 15.1% of those 1024 ancestors. If I go 2 generations further (4096 ancestors) my percentage goes down to 3.8%

CallieK said...

If I count only the ancestors that I have located personally, then I stand at 71, so about 7%. However one of my French Canadian relatives has done the entire line back 10 generations! (F C Catholic records are much easier to find than most other early Canadian records. I haven't done the math on that but I think it substantially adds to my number.

Martin said...

This is interesting and I read the two blogs from whence this question came. I can 393 of such ancestors for a kill ratio of 38.5%. I have conducted genealogical research on and off for 35 years since I was a teenager. [That's five countries in five different languages, I can name all my 4th great grandparents by full name. On average the years 1780-1800]. But I heartily disagree with the original premise of the posting. First of all, you can know that you’re done. If you are a really good genealogist then you know what records exist or don’t exist. And the further back you go, depending on place and ethnicity, there can be literally no records. And all lines end. Period. Even if you can leap great hurdles like finding your ancestral place in Ireland before the famine migration (which I’ve done), the records peter out but one or two more generations beyond that. So people of Irish, Scottish (ain’t no church records that go back much past 1780), African-American, Jewish, and many other ethnicities have end points in their research.

Now what do people do? If bitten by the genealogical bug they research their spouse’s family; their friends; their in-laws, etc. They also fall back into family history (very different from genealogy IMHO) and trace aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But to say that there is a certain percentage left to do when there is literally no way to do it, is absurd. I don’t believe in brick walls. I believe that people haven’t done their homework well enough. Then I believe that there are no records and the trail goes cold. I can’t go back in time and ask Maria Teresa to allow religious freedom earlier in her reign so that Lutheran church records start earlier that 1772. I can’t make the Easter Uprising of 1916 take place away from the Irish censuses of 1841 and 1851. How many English church records (that still exist) predate the year 1550?

I’ve known only one person who knew all his 10th generation ancestors in all lines. He is 100% French Canadian and he did his homework. No one else, in the top echelons of genealogical research that I know, comes anywhere close to that.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Martin - you have a point that SOME of your lines will prove very challenging and the needed records may not exist.

But that is when we must turn to alternate records. If the church records or census records are lost (as many are in Ontario Canada, Ireland and so on) it does not mean we cannot find other records.

For example the English kept wonderful Bastardy records.

There are often many other obscure records - and such records as land records, Petitions, court records, almshouses, school records, tax records, etc.

It depends on the country in which you are searching. But I certainly would never give up even if the trail seems cold. Dig, dig, dig for there may be an obscure record somewhere that has what you need.

I also don't believe it's a contest where one genealogist is pitted against another. It's a personal quest, to find one's own ancestors. The more you find, the happier you will be but I believe you can NEVER say "I"m done." It's not possible.

Martin said...

Well, I've been doing this long enough to explore all the obscure records too. When there are no records, there are no records. It isn't about giving up but being cognizant and responsible to say that there no records. And most people in the past were not wealthy enough to generate many records. If those few records that were generated are now gone, then that's it. I can't make my Slovak Lutheran ancestors show up in Catholic church records. They were serfs and there are no land records. If you are African-American and you hit the wall of slavery--you are done. Remember that you need a reasonably exhaustive search for the genealogical proof reasoning. If you've done that reasonably exhaustive search, you're done.

Anonymous said...

For those ancestors earlier than ~3rd or 4th generations, one could always start tracing all the "cousins' descendants" as well!

Unknown said...

I think Martin is right. At some point you will find ancestors who appear to have been dropped onto the earth by martians and you may never find out what their lives were like or where they are buried. The information has been lost and probably not much had existed originally. I wish it weren't so, but it's gonna happen. I follow all collateral lines as I'm able, but proof may be truly impossible to obtain, and I may just have to suck it up. I still have the luxury of saying I have brick walls though...living in a remote physical locale and not being flush enough to buy much in the way of original documentation, I am obviously not DONE, and probably will never be DONE in my lifetime. That's OK. The journey has been rich and rewarding. For someone who disliked history when young, I've sure flipped...LOL.

Unknown said...

I think Martin is right. At some point you will find ancestors who appear to have been dropped onto the earth by martians and you may never find out what their lives were like or where they are buried. The information has been lost and probably not much had existed originally. I wish it weren't so, but it's gonna happen. I follow all collateral lines as I'm able, but proof may be truly impossible to obtain, and I may just have to suck it up. I still have the luxury of saying I have brick walls though...living in a remote physical locale and not being flush enough to buy much in the way of original documentation, I am obviously not DONE, and probably will never be DONE in my lifetime. That's OK. The journey has been rich and rewarding. For someone who disliked history when young, I've sure flipped...LOL.

Devon Lee said...

Thanks for the great post. Looks like I'm not alone in wondering what my numbers are. I blogged about my experience and thank you for the chance to take a look. 13% isn't bad in my estimate. Time to keep climbing the tree some more.

Perry said...

I can't be sure of much beyond the 7th generation, as I've not personally researched that far back. I put my number of known ancestors at a conservative 134, which puts me at 13% of 1024.

I guess I'm more of a family historian than ancestor finder. I've spent a lot of time documenting up through my 3rd great grandparents, where I know 30/32, and gathering all the records, photographs, and stories about their families and descendants.

I think I disagree with Martin to a certain extent. For some lines, I think you can be 100% certain that the ancestors won't be found. If you're looking at early European church records for your poor farmer ancestors, eventually the paper trail just ends.

On the other hand, so many of my ancestors are such elusive little buggers- moving through several states in their lifetime leaving little to no information behind about their birth location other than perhaps a state (or multiple states if they're feeling particularly tricky). I couldn't possibly be sure the problem will never be solved, but I simply don't know where to look aside from doing extremely extensive one-name studies.

Randy said...

Almost 12%!

Mariann Regan said...

Fascinating! Love the post, the diagram, and all ideas in the comments. Had no concept of these numbers and the comparative view.

My 5th gg father (maternal line) was the one who may have come from Ireland. Or Wales. Or Scotland. Or England. In the past, hired genealogists attested to each possibility. So we've really lost it there, although there's fairly good evidence up to the 5th.

The paternal line? Well, I'm going to start that any minute now. : )

In our family, the custom is to include not just ancestors but all the great uncles and cousins, removed or not. So my current family tree is getting towards 700 members. Which is a bit silly. Probably I'm not going to keep this custom going!

jleesimons said...

I'm coming late to this post, but I loved it. After thirty or so years of researching, up through my 5th great-grandparents I have 51.5 percent of my lines identified, which is not good enough in my estimation. Thereafter, the numbers drop way down as I hit the expansion years after the American Revolution, lack of census records in so many of my states for 1790, 1800, 1810, and so many courthouses burned in the Civil War or for other reasons. No one said this was going to be easy, right?

gwd775@yahoo.com said...

Question,Can a Family member at time of Death request that all records pertaining to the deceasedbe destroyed ? Thank you gwd775@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I believe it's 1022, plus yourself, for 1023.