Hi WikiTreers,

Welcome to a new installment of “Meet our Members.” It’s time to get to know another awesome member of our community: Meet Ellen.

Ellen has been a WikiTreer since April of 2014.  She’s very active and helpful in our G2G forum,  is Project Coordinator for the New Netherland Settlers Project and is a great asset to the Puritan and Palatine Migration Projects.

What are some surnames you are researching?:

I don’t have a surname focus. At any given time, I might be researching any of the names in my WikiTree Family List, which spans the alphabet from Abbott to Zoeller, or possibly a relative by marriage or a random person unrelated to me.  With about 900 direct ancestors on my WikiTree 10-generation family list (plus about 1000 more if I add generations 11 and 12), I  don’t feel much need to find more ancestors, but  there’s much work to be done in properly curating the ones I have.

What locations you are researching:

My focus is in places where most of my ancestors lived during the last four centuries, particularly Massachusetts, Connecticut (primarily eastern Connecticut), Vermont, New York’s  Hudson Valley, and eastern Pennsylvania.

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

I had plenty of chances to get interested, but it took me a long time to get bitten by the bug.

I grew up aware of my ancestors back to my great-great grandparents, and often farther back.  In some cases I knew where they lived (sometimes the house was still occupied by relatives), my family had furniture and other items  from long-ago ancestors, and I visited several cemeteries where ancestors were buried.  One great grandfather (dead before I was born) had devoted his retirement years to family history; he researched several family lines and  typed out books on mimeograph stencils, and I had read the resulting books.  A college history class assignment asked us to interview living relatives, collect other family history information, and write an account of our families’ histories in the context of historical trends in the United States  since the Civil War.

But I didn’t really get interested until after I tested with 23andMe and started getting queries from “DNA Relatives” seeking to find our relationship. Those requests and other events started my doing Internet research to fill in the blanks in my tree. The Internet resources that became available in recent years made searching so much easier than it used to be, and I discovered that I had “hit the jackpot” in ancestor-hunting, since much of my ancestry is in colonial American populations that have been extensively studied.  I got hooked on the thrill of the hunt and I became intrigued by the histories of the major migration episodes that brought most of my ancestors to America (the Puritan Great Migration, New Netherland settlement, the Palatine migration, and the migration of Ulster Scots beginning in 1718).

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

My family’s favorite ancestor used to be Susannah Martin, who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. But I discovered that she’s not our ancestor. Unbeknownst to my family, our supposed connection had been disproven in an article published in The American Genealogist in 1980 — but it took us 35 years to find that out.

Maybe my new favorite is my great grandmother Ella (Stubblebine) Wingard. Her skill and hard work as a dressmaker helped enable her two daughters to attend four years of college around the time of World War I — in a time and place where many children of both sexes left school in their early teens to work in factories or mines .

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down.

The first ancestor I found completely on my own (with no hints from family lore, published genealogy, or online family trees) was the father of  my 3-greats grandmother Elizabeth Carpenter. I searched free internet sources for men named Carpenter living in or near Rensselaer County, New York who could have had a daughter her age. Walter Carpenter was the only candidate who turned up.  His name was a promising clue, since the name Walter had entered the family starting with Elizabeth’s son Walter.  An abstract of Walter’s will listed an unmarried adult daughter named Elizabeth, which was consistent with my ancestor’s date of marriage. So I added Walter Carpenter to my family tree – but I felt tentative about doing that, because I wondered why the various people who had researched the families hadn’t made this connection. If I had been active on WikiTree, I probably would have posted a request for advice in the G2G forum here.  After acquiring  other records, I’m now confident that Walter is the right man, and I’ve become more confident of my genealogical judgment, but I still relish the thrill of finding Walter, and recall my initial uncertainties about the find.

And Walter turned out be an interesting ancestor. During the American Revolution he was imprisoned on suspicions of disloyalty (to the American side), but he made amends and even established a claim to being a “patriot.” And he was a slaveowner (as were several other New York ancestors)  –  an embarrassing bit of  history that had been edited out of my family’s lore.

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

I can’t fix on one person I would want to related to, but a famous person who I’m particularly pleased to be related to is U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt — a champion of government as an agent for the public good and  a conservationist whose actions protected a sizeable chunk of the United States’ national parks and national forests. My conservative Republican great-grandfather likely would have enjoyed knowing that he and T.R. were 5th cousins – the same relationship that Franklin D. Roosevelt had with T.R.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

Well, I spend way too much time on genealogy.  My professional background is in science, which is both a career and a passion for many of us; I’m intensely engaged in local civic affairs; and I enjoy travel – seldom to the same place twice.

How long have you been on WikiTree and how active are you?

I joined in April 2014. Initially, my initial motivation was to fix some errors and omissions I saw when WikiTree profiles came up in my search results. I was here for more than a month before I added one of my parents to the tree, and I’m still focused more on long-ago family than on the recent generations that I’ve “always” known about.  I am on WikiTree pretty much every day — in the G2G forum, doing various tasks in support of the New Netherland Settlers, Puritan Great Migration, and Palatine Migration projects, and occasionally working on my own family.

What are some of the features/aspects of WikiTree that you love/don’t love as much?

It’s been wonderful to experience how collaborative genealogy in WikiTree makes all of us better genealogists. Collaboration on our shared ancestors encourages us to share information and to hold each other to high standards. I’ve learned an enormous amount from other WikiTreers.  My biggest negative is my concern about whether WikiTree ‘s technological and organizational structure will keep up with growth and adapt to  changing needs and expectations.

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

1. Look at other people’s families around WikiTree to see how they’ve documented their ancestors within the WikiTree framework (“featured profiles” are one good place to look for examples) and identify some examples that you want to emulate, then look at the “edit” version of those profiles to see how they entered their content.

2.  Participate in the G2G forum. You can learn a lot there, and get help when you need it – and it’s a great place to discuss difficult genealogical problems.

If you could leave one message for your descendants, what would it be?

Studying the lives of our ancestors, I am constantly reminded of how profoundly life can change in a relatively short time. Our ancestors could not possibly have imagined today’s world, and you will inhabit a future that I cannot possibly imagine. I wish that the world we leave for you was in better condition, and I hope you will manage it better than my generation has done.


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  One Response to “Meet our Members: Ellen Smith”

  1. Hi Ellen, nice to meet you via your blog interview. I’m quite excited right now – I usually have a quick look at my connections to the Profile of the Week and the Member of the Week, just for a bit of fun; but today I discovered that although I am 29 degrees from you, there is only one marriage in there – your 8th-great-grand-uncle married my 4th-cousin-8-times-removed! That’s the closest connection I’ve found through Wikitree!

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