Friday, 24 April 2015

Genealogy Arbor Day ~ A typical Irish family tree

On Arbor Day, from the Latin Arbor, meaning tree, trees (as in the green leafy ones) are celebrated all over the world. In the U.S., Arbor Day falls on the last Friday in April, and this year, Colleen of the genealogy blog Leaves & Branches suggested we celebrate our Genealogy Tree on Arbor Day

The Tree Council of Ireland organises National Tree Week in March each year and Tree Day is celebrated each October, but, we do not have Arbor Day, as such. Nevertheless, I thought I would participate in Colleen’s meme today and share some general information about our genealogy family tree.
Our Family Tree Size
Currently, there are 920 individuals in my genealogy tree – a fairly modest number by most international standards.  Serious genealogists, especially those with deep roots in the U.S., often count their ancestors in the tens of thousands, but 920 is probably a fairly average size for a native Irish tree. The renowned genealogist, John Grenham, recently admitted he had a ‘piddling 600’ people in his tree, and he has being researching far longer than I have.[1]

Included in the tree, are my direct line ancestors (maternal and paternal), their siblings, and their siblings’ spouses and children. Researching the whole family like this helps to build a more colourful picture of our ancestors’ lives. Plus, it is often essential to piece together all the snippets of information available for each sibling, before the names of their parents finally become apparent.


Our Family Tree Score
In order to determine the dimensions of my genealogy tree, I counted the total number of direct ancestors in each generation, starting with myself, i.e. two parents, four grandparents, etc. Next, I counted how many of them, in each generation, I had identified.  Then, I charted the results, below, adding the percentage number of direct ancestors identified, to give a ‘tree score’. There was a bit of maths involved, but I am an accountant after all.


The tree score for eight generations is 23 per cent, meaning I know the names of less than a quarter of my ancestors, up to and including my fifth great-grandparents. This includes some 'grandmothers', where only their given names are known and their maiden names are still awaiting to be discovered. So, there is still quite a bit of work to do! 

When Crista Cowan of the Ancestry blog similarly calculated her ancestral number, in 2012, she based it on ten generations, not eight as I have done.[2] Each generation you go back doubles the number of ancestors, (everyone has two parents), so in ten generations, you have 1022 direct ancestors. But, I know the names of nobody in the two additional generations, so our tree score reduced to just 6 per cent. As only two of the 128 fifth-great-grandparents have been identified and as it’s unlikely the names of many others will ever come to light, eight generations is probably far more reasonable, for a native Irish tree. Why depress myself for not meeting someone else’s potential?


Our Deepest Roots
Our deepest roots currently belong to the Radcliffe family from north County Dublin. Peter Radcliffe was my fourth great-grandfather from Malahide. He was likely baptised ‘Peter Ratty’ in the parish of Baldoyle, on 25 November 1798, the son of Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen, and as such, Thomas and Mary are the two fifth great-grandparents in the chart above.



[1] ‘Irish Roots: The Other Clare Roots’, The Irish Times, 13 April 2015.
[2]  'Family History All Done? What’s Your Number?', Ancestry blog, 16 August 2012.

Images: Some old beech trees in the back paddock, Co. Kildare.


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© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

12 comments:

  1. Don't despair over that overall percentage, Dara. Cut yourself some slack. After all, as you mentioned, with each step back a generation, that cumulative number doubles, making it doubly hard to keep up the pace. More than that, you can't compare yourself with researchers who have access to records kept for well over three hundred years. You are doing well to break into that fifth great grandparent range!

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  2. Thanks Jacqi, I'm not complaining really, the corollary is I can spend the time examining each leaf in more detail.

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  3. Dara,

    Thank you for this very interesting post. I feel the same way as you: ‘researching the whole family…helps to build a more colourful picture of our ancestors’ lives’. As far as numbers go, I’m glad to know I have something in common with the eminent John Grenham.

    Although I have always been intrigued by those family trees that number in the thousands, in truth, I have often wondered if it is possible for the researchers who assembled them to provide details about each person among those thousands beyond his/her name and BMD vitals. In some of the largest family trees I have viewed, often even the BMD details are missing.

    I think this raises interesting questions about the ways in which we (family history/genealogy researchers) delineate the noun 'family'.

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    1. Agreed, Jennifer. My 'family' today very much includes my first cousins, as I'm sure it was in the past. Still, if only we could experience, just a little more often, the joy and excitement of pushing back another generation!

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  4. I think you've done a wonderful job Dara. Irish records are so lacking the further back you go, you have to work with what's available as I'm sure you already know (smile).

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    1. Thank you, Ellie, I know only too well ;-)

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  5. Hi Dara, I like your fuller (width-wise}, more colorful tree, better than a tall straight tree. Its so much more interesting! I wanted to tell you that I’ve included your post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/04/noteworthy-reads-11.html

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    1. Thanks a million, Jo, much appreciated.

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  6. Dara, thanks for linking up here! I love your chart of ancestors. I'd rather see a "smaller" tree that is well researched than an overwhelming tree that has been copied and pasted in place. Keep up the great work!

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  7. Thank you, Colleen, and thanks also for organising the meme.

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  8. Very interesting! You prompted me to look at my stats (I'm an American of almost entirely Irish background). My father's lines peter out in the 5th generation (3 generations in Tyrone), while my mother's are fairly complete through the 6th generation (Tyrone and Donegal), with a few making it to 7th generation. None make it to 8th generation, and I don't think they ever will, so congratulations! I prefer to look at them because years rather than generations, though: my father's 5 generations get me to births in the c 1810s, while I don't get to that time frame in my mother's lines until the 6th generation. In the few that make it to the 7th generation, I have no maiden names, but I do have one woman born in the 1790s and another born in the 1770s. Pretty impressive for Irish Catholic research, IMHO. :-). Claire

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    1. I agree Claire, getting back to the 1770s is very impressive - well done! All my identified ancestors lived on the east coast, where earlier church records are available. Many records for parishes in the west only start in the 1840s, or even later. Thank you for leaving a comment.

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