Researching my family tree has been my most passionate and primary hobby for nearly twenty years. As a result of having an online presence with my research, I’ve found and met dozens of distant cousins, and some have even provided me with photographs of my direct ancestors that my family had never seen. Though I do not descend from anyone famous, or even close to being remotely famous, it does not change the fact that researching my family tree is fascinating. I’ve learned many interesting and scandalous stories about my ancestors, as every family tree has some skeletons in the closet! While I am not a professional or certified genealogist, I have learned to apply the same type of recognized principles and standards of proof in my research methods.
Family Tree Database
A few years ago, I decided to re-build my entire family tree database from ground up. The main purpose of this effort is to consistently verify each individual one-by-one, and combine it with the tedious process of linking each person to every source record that may be found on Ancestry. The clear advantage of Ancestry is the ability to link each individual to these source records, as well as upload countless photos and documents. The one glaring flaw of Ancestry is that it does not display any person notes or research notes from Family Tree Maker, and this is something that I find frustrating beyond belief. The reason being is that with each individual in my family tree database, I include written notes on my research, and transcribe information from every source document. For the purpose of sharing my research notes, I also have my database available on Rootsweb.
Generally speaking, everyone in my database is related to me, or I am related to the spouse of that person. For those spouses which I do not have blood relation, I generally do not research or record the ancestry of them, simply due to time constrainsts. If you are curious of my relation to a specific individual, simply ask.
DNA Analysis and Matching
The newest tool for family tree research is genetic testing through DNA analysis and matching. One such service is AncestryDNA, which is offered by Ancestry. After sending in a saliva sample, the AncestryDNA service provides the following results and information.
- The AncestryDNA analysis will provide rough estimates of nationality and ethnicity, which are based on the geographic location of common DNA pools from centuries ago. It should be noted that results will commonly vary from sibling to sibling, which is due to the way DNA markers are inherited. Where possible, it is useful to have siblings and parents also tested.
- The AncestryDNA results are integrated into a search engine, and then analyzed against the AncestryDNA results of other individuals. The service provides a dynamically updated list of potentially matching relatives by rating the estimated genetic distance, such as possible second cousin, third cousin, etc. It should be noted that DNA matching is not foolproof as some might believe. For example, there will be possible matches for which there may be no relation, and this is something that I have encountered numerous times.
- For individuals that already have family trees entered on Ancestry, the AncestryDNA search engine will attempt to identify the common ancestor of individuals that have matching DNA profiles by examining the family trees of both DNA matching individuals.
My DNA was processed by AncestryDNA in January 2012, and the summary of my genetic ethnicity estimate is shown below.
My documented family tree research shows that my nationalities are primarily English, about one-quarter Polish, about one-eighth German, about one-eighth Swedish, and a splash of French. Roughly speaking, the AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate would seem to match my research. The trace regions are wide spanning areas, and would still seem to fit my existing research. For example, the trace of Irish might eventually help address a yet unproven family legend, which says that my Duffrin ancestors immigrated to Germany from Ireland. Subsequent to my own testing, I also had AncestryDNA tests done on both my father and mother, and all three AncestryDNA results are attached to my Ancestry profile.
If you had your DNA tested with AncestryDNA, and think that we might be related, please feel free to contact me. We can then attempt to examine the results through the AncestryDNA service. Unfortunately, it will involve performing some surname searches, as Ancestry does not yet allow searching on an Ancestry userid. It should be noted that the more distant the relation, the possibility increases that there may not be a DNA match.
Genealogy Television Series
Listed below are several documentary television series that concern genealogy and family tree research. These series can serve multiple viewing purposes. For example, they show what may be possible in family tree research. As some of the series involve celebrities, they can also provide entertainment value. The series can also provide historical value, as they discuss the background of the ancestors, the countries where they lived, and life in that era. It should be noted that the research is done ahead of time by certified and professional genealogists, and they do not show the hours of labor and effort spent behind the scenes. Some of the results shown are exceptional, and one key reason for this is that the producers have multiple people researched simultaneously, and only the stories deemed more interesting are actually aired. The list below also includes one fictional comedy series that concerns genealogy and family tree research. Click on the plus sign to expand each toggle, and reveal further details.
Faces of America is a documentary television series from PBS. The series is hosted by Dr. Louis Henry Gates, who also hosts a follow-on series called Finding Your Roots. With each episode, Dr. Gates sits across the table from various celebrities, and reveals the results of family tree research, as well as DNA testing. Similar to Finding Your Roots, the series is intriguing with how DNA is used to challenge pre-conceived notions of race. The series ran in 2010, and there are four episodes that run about an hour each. The series is available for purchase on iTunes in the US.
Family Tree is a fictional comedy television series from HBO. I’m including the series in this list, as the plot of the series is that main character is researching his family tree, and makes new discoveries in each episode. I have not viewed the series, and hope to in the near future. The series aired in 2013, and there are eight episodes about an hour each. The series is available to HBO subscribers via on demand, and is also available for purchase via iTunes in the US.
Finding Your Roots is a documentary television series from PBS. The series is hosted by Dr. Louis Henry Gates, who also hosted a similar preceding series called Faces of America. With each episode, Dr. Gates sits across the table from at least two celebrities who have something in common, such as in their careers. He presents each with a “book of life,” and reveals the results of family tree research, as well as DNA testing. In some cases, there is some form of link between the ancestors of the celebrities. Similar to Faces of America, the series is intriguing with how DNA is used to challenge pre-conceived notions of race. The series ran from 2012 to 2016, and there are 30 episodes that run about an hour each. It is unconfirmed whether the series was renewed. The series is available for purchase on iTunes in the US.
Genealogy Roadshow is a documentary television series from PBS. The premise is similar to Antiques Roadshow, but the content is genealogy. Unlike most other genealogy series that feature celebrities, this series features PBS viewers from across the country. The research is done by professional genealogists before filming. Each guest meets on camera with a professional genealogist, and the results are revealed. The one valuable aspect of this series is that they do occasionally disprove family legends, which demonstrates the need to have an open mind when doing family tree research. The series has run since 2013, and there are 17 episodes that run about an hour each. The series was renewed for a fourth season. The series is available for purchase on iTunes in the US.
Heir Hunters is a documentary television series from the BBC in the UK. This reality series focuses on several UK firms that track down heirs of unclaimed estates, and by doing so, the firms claim a percentage in commission. When someones dies without a will in the UK, the estate can pass to one or more relatives who descend in some way from the grandparents of the deceased. Genealogical research is the major portion of their methods, and the series shows these firms utilizing birth, marriage, death, and census records, as well as interviewing people. How the heirs and the deceased are related varies wildly, and in many cases, they did not know each other. The series has run since 2007, and there are 82 episodes that run about an hour each. Season 2 and 3 are available on Netflix in the US, and hopefully more will be added.
The Human Family Tree is a documentary movie from National Geographic. It is narrated by actor Kevin Bacon. The documentary shows several dozen people in New York City who agree to have their DNA tested by a team of researchers. The documentary then unravels the genetic ancestry of the participants, and groups them based on common DNA markers from centuries ago. Similar to Faces of America and Finding Your Roots, the documentary is intriguing with how DNA is used to challenge pre-conceived notions of race. The movie aired in 2009, and runs about 90 minutes. The documentary is available on DVD, or digitally via Amazon Video.
Who Do You Think You Are? is a documentary television series from TLC. The series originally aired on NBC from 2010 to 2012, and was then picked up by TLC in 2013. The series was adapted from a long running UK series of the same name. Each episode features a celebrity who meets with professional genealogies and historians as their family tree is revealed, and they also travel to various places across the world to learn about their ancestors. The series has run since 2010, and there are 61 episodes that run about 45 minutes each. Seasons 4 through 7 are available for purchase on iTunes in the US.
Who Do You Think You Are? is a documentary television series from the BBC in the UK. It has spawned versions in other countries, such as the US, under the same name. The UK version of the series features a British celebrity, and they visit various places while researching their family tree. The premise is somewhat different from the US version in that there are less experts in front of the camera, and the celebrity’s ancestry is usually more ordinary. The family tree is obviously researched ahead of time by professional genealogists, and the British celebrity is guided from behind the scenes. The series has run since 2004, and so far there are 110 episodes that run about an hour each. Viewing this series in the US would require a region free DVD player, and purchasing the DVDs from Amazon UK.
This page was updated on October 30, 2016
© Copyright – Timothy J. Barron