Beware the Deflating Genealogy Statistic

Be prepared. I’m going to scare you and depress you with a genealogy statistic. One that even professional genealogists can’t seem to overcome. It can haunt your sleep and make you dash under the covers, cancel your MyHeritage subscription, and never attempt another genealogical discovery ever again.

By the way, this post comes three years after I originally thought about it.

What is this heart-stopping deflating genealogy statistic?

It’s your genealogy score. Your genealogy number.

(Insert your own blood curling scream with dramatic horror film music)

Seriously, there are these genealogy measurements that go around the blogosphere.

  • How many names are in your database?
  • How many places are your ancestors from?
  • How many different surnames are in your database?
  • And on, and on, and on.

But, if you’re like me. Some measurements are meaningless and others are a hindrance to my continued research efforts. The worst one asks the question of what is my genealogy number. Meaning,

  • What percentage of possible ancestors have you discovered?
  • How many people are on your family tree going directly back from yourself?

In simple family trees, your total number of ancestors doubles with each generation you examine as you move backward in time from you to your parents, to your grandparents, and so on. The simple math suggests that you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-parents, 16 great-great-grandparents, and so on, doubling as you work back in time. If you’re fortunate enough to reach back 6 generations on your trees, you could have 512 ancestors.

Genealogy Statistic

How do you calculate things when your ancestor is adopted?

My grandmother was adopted. How should I calculate my genealogy number?

Through the help of my mother, my grandma Louise, my great-aunt Dorothy Zumstein, my great-great aunt Elizabeth, and many others, my family tree that includes my adopted great-grandparents looks like this:

Things look pretty good through my 4th great-grandparents but things the total number of discovered ancestors plummets in the 5th and 6th great grandparent generation.

Genealogy Statistic for Adopted Line

Of the 511 total ancestors that I could discover, I have found only 173 which means I have found 34% of my family with my adopted line.

Genealogy Statistic for Biological Line

If the research on the biological lines for my grandmother is accurate, then my efforts added to those of others looks a little better. We’ve found 232 of 511 total ancestors with a percentage found of 45%. I could stop and just focus on the biological tree, but then that would disappoint my grandmother.

My grandmother adored her adopted family and she claims them as kin. She encouraged my interest to seek out her biological line but the discoveries happened after her death. Should I discard one over the other?

Biological and Adopted Family Tree Statistic

Of the 757 ancestors, I have 280 ancestors identified. That’s a score of 37%/

When I wrote this article in 2016, my discovery rate was 16%. Two breakthroughs since that original post increased the combined tree percentage to 37%.

Initially, 16% felt like a permanent sticking point because DNA had not opened up the brick wall of who was my Grandmother’s Biological father. Additionally, I had not yet pieced together a few families through inferential genealogy.

While I’m excited over the percentage increase, I could still feel discouraged and think I will never find my ancestors. The statistic is deflating.

Don’t Let Your Genealogy Score Stop You From Climbing Your Family Tree

You may look at your genealogy score and discover your family history is done. However, few of those individuals have a book written about them. (Hint, hint… A Recipe for Writing Family History).

You may look at the statistic and shout at your relatives ‘genealogy is never done’.

If you have a weak constitution, do not allow statistics like these overlook the many discoveries that you have curated and all the effort you have employed to break through even one brick wall. Don’t let the statistic overlook your efforts to digital and downsize your family archive.

Be of good cheer, many pros have low numbers as well and they do this full time. Do not be surprised if your number is below 30 %.

Stay Focused on Progress Rather Than Completion

Family history isn’t just about how far back you can go. It’s about every ancestor and their story. Do what you can to capture and preserve your heritage and find joy in the journey.

Don't get discouraged when you read hear others spout this genealogy statistic. #genealogy #familyhistory #inspiration
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “Beware the Deflating Genealogy Statistic

  1. Wendy. SO TRUE!!! I keep plodding along working to capture and preserve the stories of my living relatives and those who have gone before. When the books start accumulating on myself, that makes me feel amazing. Keep up the good work. And I'm glad you liked the statistics with the Halloween theme!

  2. Thanks for a fascinating approach to the numbers of genealogy. I completely agree with you, it's the stories that are most important, not the numbers themselves. Oh, and you're so lucky to be up close and personal with Bruce!

  3. Couching your views on the genealogical number in a Halloween theme made reading about statistics much more fun. Well done! I think family historians/genealogists get sidetracked from their research every time there is discussion of number of page views, blog visitors, DNA matches, shall I go on? I can't get hung up on how I rate – I just keep plodding along doing what I'm doing.

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