Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mystery Great (Grandparents That Is)

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember the 1960's Milton Bradley game “Mystery Date.” Obviously, I didn’t play the game, but I was familiar enough with it due to the countless number of commercials aired on television. In fact, I can still sing the first line of the commercial’s song ♫ “Mystery date” ♪ – now, that’s scary. The only other thing I could remember from the ad was the line – “Is he a dream or a dud?”

What about our “Mystery Greats?” – mystery great-grandparents in all configurations. We all have them and it is humbling experience to see how many there are in a set number of generations. I have taken the challenge of counting the number of my known ancestors. This exercise was inspired by the recent posts from the following blogs: Judy Russell's The Legal Genealogist and From Helen V. Smith’s Keyboard.

A number of genealogists have counted their known ancestors up to and including seventh great-grandparents. That’s nine generations with a possible total of 1,022 collective ancestors.

Some of these individuals are the same due to pedigree collapse; however, with my known ancestry only five from my paternal grandmother’s side and two from my maternal grandmother’s side are counted twice – thus, 14 slots represent the same seven ancestors.

I know there are other duplicates, but their identities are currently unknown. In addition, two of my maternal grandfather’s Myers lines are related; however, we do not exactly know how. The common ancestors for these two lines are likely my fourth or fifth great grandparents.

Enough talk, let’s see how I fared.

 Relationship   Possible    Known    Percentage  
 Parents   2  2  100.00% 
 Grandparents  4  4  100.00% 
 Great Grandparents   8  8  100.00% 
 2nd Great Grandparents   16  16  100.00% 
 3rd Great Grandparents   32  28  87.50% 
 4th Great Grandparents   64  40  62.50% 
 5th Great Grandparents   128  57  44.53% 
 6th Great Grandparents   256  63  24.60% 
 7th Great Grandparents   512  71  13.86% 
 Total  1022  289  28.27% 

My score of 28.27% is higher than some and lower than others. As for finding these missing leaves from my family tree, many lived at a time when record keeping was scarce, that is if documentation occurred at all. For example, my patrilineal 7th great-grandfather lived from 1636-1676 – therefore, he was born 376 years ago.

My numbers were influenced by the ancestries of my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother’s lineage is Colonial New England and these lines are fairly well documented. As for my maternal grandmother, her German ancestry is also well documented. Some of this knowledge came with a chance encounter of a third cousin about four years ago.

He knew the town from which our second great-grandmother was born; however, he did not know her name. I knew her name, but nothing about where in Germany she originated. The parish records were available on microfilm and he was able to secure copies for us to peruse. Our family trees were significantly enlarged.

It is my grandfathers' ancestries where the holes exist – especially the lineages from Pennsylvania before 1850. I can only go back so many generations and the trail is cold. I have some hunches that might take me back another generation, but I can neither prove nor disprove a relationship to other families with similar surnames. These places remain as blanks on my family tree.

I began my genealogical research in 1978, but must confess that I spent most of that time researching my surname by collecting data on collateral lines and seemingly unrelated lines of individuals who shared my low frequency surname and its variants. I only worked on other lines when it was convenient. Most of my research outside of my surname occurred from 1998 onward.

When I began in 1978, I could name all of my great-grandparents and 8 of my second great grandparents. I’ve come a long way, but at 28.27%, I have a long way to go. “Dream or a dud?” Finding any “mystery great” is always a dream.

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