Networks – An Essential Tool of Family Historians

Networks! What do networks have to do with family history you ask? Well everything! Without networks we would not be able to find out a lot about our ancestors, if we were able to find them in the first place.  So the process of networking is an essential tool in our search for our ancestors.

It goes without saying that you are not the only one researching your family lines. After all, your ancestor had more than one child, so there will be others who are researching the same lines as you are. These others will have more or less information than you may have on the ancestor that you are looking for. As you connect with these others, or network with them, and share information, both sides will benefit.

As we search for our ancestors we will form several different types of networks.  Over the years I have been able to identify at least 3 different types of networks that we will form or use in our search for our ancestors. I would like to discuss them here and share what I feel are the benefits of each one.

The Family Network

The first of the networks you will develop is that of the Family network.  Which is your family, consisting of, parents, siblings, cousins; aunts & uncles, there may also be more distant relatives that you will come in contact with over time.  The benefit of this network is mainly

the availability of information.  And it is a static network so to speak, rarely changing except in the case of death of a family member.

Here you have at your fingertips, so to speak, information sources that are easily accessed.  Also often you will find it easy to organise our family to search various branches of your family tree, so that more information is gathered in a relativity short period of time.  And because it is your family, you will find it a lot easier to share information and learn from each other different methods of finding information.

Family network

Another aspect of the family network that I like is the fact that with your relatives you can not only share information easily but in order to preserve information you can get one or more to keep a backup of your files in case you lose the information that you have on your own hard drive.

The Research Network

This network is an interesting one as it is not a static network, like the family network, but it is a dynamic network, constantly changing, according to your research needs.

Throughout your life as you research your family lines your sources of information will go through a lot of changes. Some sources you will keep and others you will either discard because you no longer need them or they may not have the information you either want or need. Hence it being a dynamic network as it is in a constant state of flux, according to both your needs and available sources of information.

Your research network will contain both physical and logical sources of information, such as libraries, state and federal archives, family history and historical societies and also on the internet.

Examples of a research network would be Family History libraries, local or national libraries, city or local council archives, (both physical repositories and internet sites), state and or federal archives, local historical societies, State & federal government departments, (birth, death & marriage registries, land councils, electoral commission etc).  Also there would be internet websites such as ; ; etc

The Other Network

Unlike the 2 previous networks this one is a combination of both the family network and the research networks.  In that it will contain both static and dynamic elements. By that I mean you will have both people and organisations and or internet sites you may use regularly but infrequently, (may be considered static in nature), and then you will have others that you may use very rarely, (may consider these sources as Dynamic in nature), because they contain information of a specialised nature. E.g. geographic information, information on  obscure or obsolete occupations etc.

In this network also you will have people you come in contact with in the course of your research.  These will be people who may have specific information on the individual or family that you may be researching at the time. You may meet them on the internet, they may have come across your tree or family information on a website you are both using, or you may have met them at a physical repository that you are both using to trace the same family or individual at the time.

So there you have it, 3 different types of networks that we use in our work as family historians.  While I have been working on this article it occurred to me that networks or networking occur in every aspect of our lives.  But it is what we do with those networks or networking opportunities that make all the difference in how well we do our work, or live our lives.

It must be pointed out also that in networks, the transfer of information is not just a one way street, but information moves in both directions.  Sometimes the greater transfer of information may be in one direction, but there is still information going back the other way. Either to confirm the correctness of the information gained and or showing gratitude for the information gained from a source.  In other instances there may be swap of information.  As in the case of one of your sources may have a location or information on where possible information on an ancestor may be found, and a request made as to inform as to whether the information given was of benefit and as to what was gained from that source.

I started this article by saying that Networks or networking are an essential tool for us as family historians, without it we cannot go far in our research.  It is the same with everything we do.  Without these networks we would be just genealogists looking at dates, where as family historians we get to know our ancestors and a bit about their lives, which in turn give us a better understanding of ourselves.  And the why we are the way we are, both as individuals and as a family.


Family History Programs

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years we all have become familar with the different versions of the program; ” Who do You think You Are.” and there are a lot of things in it that can be very helpful in doing our own research.  But the other night I came across a program called, “Finding Your Roots“, I found myself pleasently surprized by not only the quality of the program but by also the fact that you get to see where the information came from and also some of the stories of the various ancestors of these people.

In this episode we get to look at the family tree’s of Robert Downey Jr; and Maggie Gyllenhaal, both are well known actors and both share a lot in common in their family tree’s.  Both have Jewish ancestry on one side of their tree and european ancestry on the other side of their tree.

Throughout the program you saw the use of different resources, such as state and federal government records.  Also the use of libraries, Historical & Family history societies and also the use of family information.

English: Actor Robert Downey, Jr. at the 83rd ...

It was interesting to note that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s surname means, “Golden Hall.”  And that one of her ancestors was a puritan minister and quite a well known one. His name was Reverend John Lothrop and who, along with some of his congregation, was banished to the America’s from england at a time of intense persecution of non-conformist religions.  John Lothrop & his parishoners arrived in Boston, Massachusetts  in 1634AD .  John Lothrop was one of the founders of the town of Barnstable, Massachussetts, USA.  And is an ancestor of many notable american figures. One of the homes he built in Barnstable is now a library and is considered one of the oldest libraries in the USA.

Robert Downey Jr can count among his ancestors his 5th great grandfather, Tobias Schucker (1747 – 1813), who fought in the American Revolution. He enlisted in the Berks county Militia, Pennsylvania in 1780 as  a private.  After the war finnished and at the end of his life, his will showed that he owned over 100 acres of land.  Tobias was descended from German emigrants and even though he lived and died in the USA, he never forgot his german heritage.  His will was written in German and he probably spoke german most of his life.

One of the most interesting segments in this program is the use of DNA matching. Both Maggie Gyllenhaal & Robert Downey jr supplied samples of their DNA. These samples were used to determine their genitic origins.  The DNA testing was carried out by a company called .  Despite the fact that both Maggie & Robert have jewish ancestry in their family tree.  The tests showed that Robert Downey Jr has only 20% of his genetic makeup comes from the jewish side of his ancestry.  Whereas Maggie Gyllenhaal’s genetic makeup is 100% jewish.  The tests also showed that Maggie’s  linage is part of the 40% of the american jewish population who are descended from a group of 4 jewish women who lived in the land of Judea over 2000 years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this program and am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. I do not hesitate in recommending it, not just for its entertainment value but also because it is a good example of how to do family history and shows the resources that are available to us in our search for our ancestors.

Coming Soon

Sorry that it has been so long between post , but I havve some technical problems with my laptop, which I a trying to resolve.
Also I have an article in the works which I hope will be ready soon. As well as a new series of articles which will start soon. The new series will be Website Reviews, in which I will review family History websites, both ones we all know and use and also any that I have come across and will come across in my researches.

So I will publish soon, and I look forward to your comments and input on the articles.