Stop Asking Genealogists How Far Back They Have Researched

Can you really trace your tree back to Adam and Eve? Can you really trace your family line to 850 A.D.?


Many folks attempting to engage a genealogist in conversation ask this question.


“You do genealogy. How far back have you gotten?”


They think they’ve discovered a kindred spirit. Or they may be trying to make polite conversation. The trouble is, genealogists can't reliably research very far back through time. That's what we discussed in this video.

Watch this video.


I don’t mind folks who aren’t into genealogy asking how far back I've researched. They're innocent.


Those who are ‘serious genealogists’ who ask this question prickle my insides. The people who eagerly ask this question are name-gatherers.


Don’t be a Name-Gatherer


When I respond, “Oh, only about the 1850s in Ohio and a little further back in Canada,” name-gatherers express great disappointment.


They sigh and say, “That’s too bad.”


Then they rapidly launch into, “I have my lines back to the 1500s and into royalty.”

They brag about their research and imply that I’m not a good researcher because my family lines don’t go back that far and lack royal blood.


Name gatherers. You drive a patient genealogist nuts.


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How should I handle the question from Name-Gatherers?


Bless their enthusiasm. We need people of all stripes in family history. I just wish I knew how to respond. I think that’s the reason I wrote this post. Not to pick on such people or the question. Rather, I don’t know how to handle this question.


Maybe next time I’ll say, “I’m related to a drunk, an immigrant, and a professor.


Would it be funny?


Maybe not.


The length of the tree matters not


The thing that frustrates me is how closed off people because my tree only reaches into the early 1800s. The pitying looks are so painful to respond with good graces.


“Smile and nod. Smile and nod,” I repeat inside my mind.


While I really want to scream, “It doesn’t matter how far I can go back!”

I have a famous cousin. His name is Elvis Presley.


Yep, we’re 11th cousins. But sometimes we’re 9th cousins. It all depends on which tree you use.


Does it really matter that Elvis Presley is my 11th cousin?


BTW For those very astute individuals wondering why I’m not claiming my family goes further back than the 1850s (the folks who link me to Elvis), here’s why I can’t claim that. Many of the lines connecting me to ‘famous’ relatives have flaws. Many flaws are too tricky or time consuming for me to tackle right now.


My direct ancestors are nobodies


I used an app that showed me how I was related to various ‘famous’ folks, and they were all 9th cousins and up.


When I switched to my direct ancestors, I have absolutely no hits.


No one of ‘importance’ appears on ANY one of my direct ancestors. In short, I’m a nobody who is carrying on the family tradition of being a nobody. “Somebodies” are on the cousin lines.


Gee, thanks!


Truthfully, I don’t care about famous ancestors. I care about my ancestors, regardless of their status on the world stage.


Your Ancestors Matter No Matter there Fame or Lack Thereof


The ancestors that I have researched between me and the grandfathers and grandmothers in the 1850s are real to me. I have uncovered much of their stories. Certainly, there is still more to learn.


If I were to go back in time to meet them, I would know where to find them and what they were doing. I would know how many people are in their homes and some of the years that were particularly happy or challenging.


This knowledge is so satisfying that I’m always hungry to learn more. To find one more record about anyone that I know and anyone that I discover along the way.

I love my ancestors, who were of little to no renown. I dream of time traveling back to see their lives and finding the answers to the question I have.


I love the homemakers, the immigrants, and the day laborers.


It’s okay that I haven’t found royalty. I also haven’t found murders or too many unsavory folks either, so it’s a win-win. Don’t you think?


Making peace with Name-Gatherers


Long ago, I laid aside frustration with the name collecting genealogists. They are what they are and it excites them. Sometimes, I just wish I could help them see what I feel when I do family history.




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