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My Maternal Ancestor Count

My Maternal Ancestor Count

Last week, my genealogy efforts felt aimless.

It’s understandable.  My Grandma just died.  She was a big part of my genealogy life.  She got me started.  She loved my updates.  She called me with questions.  I called her with discoveries and the resulting questions.  She was never far from my thoughts.

Last week I spent some time writing about her final two days of life.  I included every detail I could recall.  It is something that I hope will be important to my family now and in the future.

Pondering on those two days, on Grandma’s last 85 years, and on the questions I have asked her over the years, I was struck by one thought.

A good genealogist always runs out of time before they run out of questions.

Lest you worry, let me clarify.  I don’t have any genealogy regrets in regards to my Grandma.  I tested her DNA, she tested her DNA.  I interviewed her and recorded it.  I made lots of notes.  I asked her many, many questions over 20 years.  We hit the high points over and over again.  I even started keeping track of her verbiage on certain answers so that I could make a judgment call on how clear her memory of certain events was.  She was getting older after all.

Despite all of that time and all of that information, I still have questions.  Of course, I do.  Everything a genealogist does starts with a question.  If we run out of questions, we are doing it wrong.

So now that I can no longer ask my Grandma questions, a portion of my genealogy process is broken.

And that’s okay.

But I find myself feeling a bit aimless.

I need to get my feet solidly back under myself.

So in an effort to bring some more focus to my genealogy, I decided to create an ancestor count.  Except, I decided to leave my dad’s side of the tree out of it.  It’s not because I care about them less.  It’s simply because his side is a tangled mess of many LDS pioneers being worked on by many hundreds, dare I say thousands?, of descendants.  But on my mom’s side, that is all my Grandma, my sister, and me.  We did every bit of that work, the three of us, and only us.  There is still lots to do, and I will keep on doing it.  But looking at the numbers did something for my mental focus.

I think I am feeling my internal sense of direction coming back.

Here is my maternal ancestor count as of the 27th of September 2017:

Maternal Ancestor Count, 27 September 2017


If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know that my great-grandfather John Costello is my biggest brick wall.  The missing 25% for my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th great grandparents is all because of that brick wall.  From there, I start to have missing pieces scattered throughout my tree.  To really help me track my progress, I added that last column so that I know which branches of my tree those ancestors come from.

Looking at the numbers this way has put an energy into my thoughts.  I know that goals will follow, but they aren’t solid yet.  For now, I’m just comforted by having a new yardstick to measure my progress.  My old yardstick was printing a new fanchart for Grandma every so often and seeing the differences.  And now?  Now, I will update my ancestor count every so often to measure my progress.  Maybe I can get my Mom excited about it.



Have you ever created an ancestor count?




I wish I could take credit for the idea of an ancestor count, but I can’t.  I have no idea who thought it up first.  But I first heard the idea from my friend Cathy at Opening Doors in Brick Walls, so I’ll send you her way.


20 thoughts on “My Maternal Ancestor Count”

  1. You are amazing. I know the loss of your Grandma will leave a void in your everyday life but you have such wonderful memories. Thank you for the mention. I heard about it first on Barbara Schmidt’s blog which has been privatized. I can’t follow through on where she got it from but I have seen it on several other blogs.

  2. Give yourself time to heal. I believe that you will find that doing research will connect you to your grandmother in ways that will be new and meaningful if different from before. You will hear her voice in your head saying, “Good work.” I know I often feel that way about my aunt, who was the only person interested in family history in my family, and sadly, I myself didn’t become interested until after she was gone. But nevertheless, I always feel that connection to her, even when researching the “other” side of the family.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Amy. I appreciate it. It’s such a strange feeling to know I don’t have her to report to. Creating this count really did help a lot. Especially when I realize that she, my sister, and I did all of that work. It feels like a nice way to honor that combined effort. And, I’ve already identified 6 more direct line ancestors and found a bunch of children that were missing. I feel so blessed to have had 20 years of collaborating with her. Most genealogists start way too late to have anything like that. But, 20 years is a long time – lots of habits and routines that are now going to be different. I know she’ll be cheering me on just as much, maybe more so, as she was before. <3

      1. You are so fortunate to have had those 20 years, but you know that. How I wish I had had a chance to ask my grandparents any questions. I can see why the count helped—it’s a concrete measurement of all you accomplished together.

  3. What a great idea. I’m beginning to really appreciate how important it is to have clear research goals (as I lack them at the moment). I’m sure your grandma’s going to be with you every step of your journey. 🙂

  4. I really like your chart, great idea. My mothers stroke and then her passing left me without the #1 resource for answers to questions, she was the last of her family to tell the stories and relationships. It leaves an huge void indeed. You were very insightful to document and record all that you did, before your grandmothers passing, that is wonderful. Don’t give up on brick walls, as I am sure you aren’t. It took from 1970 until 2016 to unblock a brick. Sometimes they fall out in the most unlikely place.

    1. Thank you! I feel so blessed and grateful that I got started so young. 20 years of asking questions of my Grandma is really incredible in the genealogy world.

      I won’t give up on those brick walls! Thank you for the encouragement. 🙂 There is one that I think is truly a cemented, reinforced with razor-wire, forever-unless-I-get-some-sort-of-divine-manifestation brick wall. My 4th great grandfather was a foundling. I have his baptism record. He is listed simply as Prudent. He doesn’t have or use a last name until his 3rd or 4th child was baptized. Then he started using the last name Therien, which apparently means “of the earth”. I think he is too far back to use DNA in any kind of meaningful way. Although… I do have my Grandma’s DNA and he is her 2nd great grandpa, so maybe…? Of course he is from Québec though and that population is so endogamous that it still might not be possible. Aside from him, I still feel very hopeful about the other brick walls. This summer I knocked one down that we’d been working on for 15 years, so that was super exciting!

  5. This post is inspirational to me. Your relationship with your grandmother is much like mine with my 82 year-old father. I fear his passing, but I know it must happen probably sooner than later. Your grandmother lives on in the lives of so many thanks to your efforts to preserve her memories while she was still here with you. I applaud your determination to keep going even when you are mourning her passing. As for the ancestor count, I’ve never seen one before today, but I’m pinning it, and now I plan to make up a few of my own. Thanks from my heart. <3

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