Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sharing a Small Success

I keep my public tree on Ancestry.com. I know there are other options, but Dad kept his tree there; and, when I took it over, it seemed easiest to leave it there. I have learned a lot about “proper” genealogical research since I began in earnest two years ago, though I still have a lot to learn.

I want to write a book for my father this year about our Scottish Muir ancestors since he didn’t have access to the information I do today and doesn’t know much about them. His great great grandparents had 78 grand children so I have a LOT of records. As I started writing I quickly grew frustrated because I was always opening the same record over and over to glean information. Each time I did, it seemed I learned something new from a record I’d looked at several times before.

I finally stopped researching and writing and started transcribing all the records as well as creating source citations for the non-Ancestory.com information I had, which was most of it about the Muir family.

My transcription of Robert Muir's birth registration

Original remains of Robert Muir's birth registration

 As I was working on Dad’s grandfather’s second family – his mother’s half siblings – I realized I didn’t know much about them at all beyond their names – Robert, Jr.; Verna; Henrietta; and Margaret Muir. I noticed one other person had Robert Muir, Jr. in their tree of 3 people! But she was the home person so I contacted her.  She had last logged on to Ancestry 4 months ago; I didn’t know if I would ever hear back.  But she had called me during the day! 

We had a lovely conversation that evening and we were both able to help each other. The only record she had found for her and my father’s grandfather, Robert Muir (1875-1956), was a marriage record for his second marriage to Elizabeth Fausz. On that record, Robert claimed to be 18 years old. But it was definitely the right Robert Muir.

Missouri marriage license for Robert Muir
and Elizabeth Fausz found on Ancestry.com

Because of that record, my newly discovered first cousin once removed didn’t think he could have been married before and that Alice, my grandmother, must have been his sister. She stopped researching in total frustration because she couldn’t find any other records that supported those facts.

Robert Muir and Elizabeth Fausz on their wedding day on 26 Sep 1911
in St Louis, Missouri

She had no idea her grandfather was born in Scotland, who his parents were, and so on. My tree helped her make a breakthrough, especially when she discovered we each had the same photo of Robert Muir and two unknown people; and I was glad for that. What did I get? Photos! Lot’s of old photos of Robert Muir and his second family…and one photo of my Dad at age 10 or 11 with his maternal grandfather that was unknown to our family. What a find!

Robert Muir and my father taken in
1941 in Arlington, Virginia

My small success was a result of always looking at tree hints from other people. We hear so many horror stories about bad trees and sloppy research and many are true. But I look anyway for clues to other possible sources. And this time I got very lucky indeed!


  1. Sorry about being a day late. I am apparently incapable of reading a calendar correctly! :blush:

  2. Hi Schalene - I look at tree hints through the Member Connect tab and I do make contact with other researchers. I don't copy tree hints to my tree though. I am so glad you had success in contacting your cousin.

    1. Anne, that's so interesting. I use Member Connect to "connect" with people who share common ancestors, but I find the way Ancestry displays public tree hints easier to use when I am looking to see if they have source documents I haven't found. When I see such a source document, I open it up and determine whether it belongs to my ancestor. Once I am convinced that it does, I save the document to my tree. Then I stop and transcribe it before moving on. I never copy another Ancestry public tree to my ancestor as a source. I only use them as clues to source documents I might be missing.

    2. Hi Schalene, I agree it is trying to find the source documents that is useful. You can see them on the member connect screen and click though, evaluate and save as appropriate. There are of course member trees that have no sources attached but they have information worth following up on. For example a death date and then I use that hint to go in source if some verification of that death date - a gravestone, probate file, newspaper notice, death index .... The frustrating thing about member connect is clicking on somebody to "connect" doesn't let them know you have "connected". You need to write a message. I often do. I wonder though how many people have "connected" with me but not messaged me. I would love to know.

    3. Anne, I agree. I would LOVE to see who has used Member Connect to connect with the people in my tree. It seems like such an obvious enhancement for Ancestry to make.

  3. Congratulations on breaking down two sets of brick walls. Wise advice to not ignore info on those trees. And what wonderful photos! Win, win!

    1. Pauleen, thanks! It was a very existing couple of days around here when I received all the old photos! Public trees are clues as are several other types of records including indexes. You have to make your own decisions about the source documents those trees include. But I might have gotten a bit snobbish about them and this experience changed that.

  4. Congratulations, Schalene, on your success, I do check regularly Members' Trees on Ancestry as sometimes you can pick up clues, which given the concerns over accuracy, I do try to follow up by seeking evidence (as Anne mentioned in her comment here). Unfortunately I find many of my messages to members go unanswered and iI wonder if contributors are no longer visiting the site. I suppose you win some, lose some!

    1. I, too, am amazed by how often I do not hear back from people I message using Ancestry. Perhaps they were like me several years ago. I was researching my husband's Lithuanian and Austrian ancestors. I'd find something, hit a brick wall and stop. Every couple of years I'd try again and have a tiny bit more success. Now I check my home page to see the activity by other users related to the people in my tree. I'm usually messaging a couple of people a day after seeing that they've added records to a shared ancestor or copied something from my tree. Just the other day through one of those emails, a lovely newly discovered distant cousin sent me a photo of my 3X great grandfather's headstone! So I appreciate the "wins" and try not to get to frustrated at the "losses."

  5. Finding the exact same photo in two people's collections provides some pwerful evidence of a connection, especially when you also have the provenance of the collections. A facility for finding matching photos AND recording the provenance (e.g. photo 1 was inheritied from person A who was decended from persons X, Y Z) would be fabulous, but don't think a really good solutions exists at present.

    There are likely a load more subtle clues in the type and format of the photos, and the composition of the collections, so lots more fun still to be had!

  6. Schalene, I'm dropping in a little late just to say what a wonderful discovery. That photo of your dad and his grandfather is pure gold!


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