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 Michael. Michael has been a member for several years now and is one of our outstanding Leaders! If you’re active in our forum, you’ve likely seen his friendly, helpful, encouraging posts there.  He might be our best cheerleader.

Surnames you are researching:  

All of them!  I know all my 3rd Great Grandparents except one which tantalizing information suggests is Watt or Wyatt.  DNA may help me with that.  The others are Stills, Ricker, Culp, Nelson, McCoy, Smith, Lowry, Miller, Lovette, Davis Cutshall, Wyckoff, Frye, Sheldon, Burrier, Scheu.  And then everyone else of course.

Locations you are researching:

Paternal: Tennessee, Maternal: Ohio.

I literally have a couple of boatloads of Colonial Ancestors.  Having recently moved to Rhode Island, I am looking forward to spending a lot of time in Massachusetts and Connecticut in particular.

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

The first time I realized I had distant cousins was when my grandfather died and I was asked to be a pallbearer.  Suddenly I was surrounded by great uncles and others that I never even knew existed.  I asked my grandmother to write me a letter telling me about our family.  Five years later she responded.  But it was my daughter’s homework assignment that launched me into genealogy and I am still answering her question.  You can read about it here: https://www.treelines.com/story/904-the-never-ending-question/

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

I do not have one favorite.  Chocolate or vanilla ice cream?, sometimes one, sometimes the other, and often both at once.

Smith Alexander Stills is the first person in my tree that I personally discovered and he remains a bit of a brick wall.  I think of him as my first “Ancestor”. I think his force of life helps shape my family and affects me today and I am still not sure why.

I continue trying to find the concrete proof that he was a Ricker. He was raised by the Stills and given their name.

Then there is the pirate’s son, Anthony Jansen van Salee and his wife, “the first whore of New York,” Grietje Reyniers, who will be restored as my ancestors when the New Netherlands Project finally sorts out the gazillion Eva and Frederick van Sycklins. (I have faith.)  Who can resist pirates and whores?

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

The concept of a brick wall is interesting.  At what point do you call it a brick wall? When you can’t find the answer? If I have an ancestor that I need to find but never go to the library or never go online, is it a brick wall?  Most would say no.  How much effort is needed before it becomes a brick wall?

I see brick walls as unanswered questions that I have not yet learned how to answer.  When I discover new resources or new methods the walls come down.  I wish I had documented how I felt about each of these successes, then I would have good stories to tell.  So I pick the low hanging fruit, find a stool and pick more fruit, find a ladder and pick even more fruit. Now I am looking for a Cherry Picker and thinking about buying a fruit farm.

However, to play along, one of the most rewarding and sad experiences was a result of having my tree on WikiTree.  One of my uncle’s grandchildren had been separated from her family due to the unfortunate life behaviors of her father.  She ended up in a foster home.  Because of WikiTree, she found me and I connected her to her lost family.  It was very emotional and cathartic for her and for me.  Unfortunately her father’s life choices still ripple through her family.  One of the dangers of doing genealogy with living relatives.  She did have new information that was missing and we rejoiced in sharing with each other.

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

We are all related right?  The question is WHERE are we related.  I use to say Thomas Jefferson (6th cousin 7x removed) or Ben Franklin (no relationship found) or Leonardo da Vinci (no relationship found) because they were Renaissance Men (ok, Leo was THE Renaissance man). Curious Dudes who were curious about everything.  I aspire to be like these guys.  I wish I had the breadth of knowledge they had.  They would absolutely love the creativity found on WikiTree.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

Um, everything, see question above.  Taking care of family is consuming a lot of my time right now, but when left to explore, I enjoy hiking, birding, astronomy, history especially Colonial History right now (is that cheating?), and fixing things to name a few.

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

Since Dec 2011, but I did not get very active until about Jan 2014.  Aside from my recent hiatus, I am on WikiTree every week if not every day.

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

This is a hard question for me.  I love to dabble and try new things and WikiTree provides that in spades. I am still working out how to best express how collaboration works on WikiTree.  The ability to share your work and get help is outstanding.  The idea that I can work on a profile or a branch on the tree, get it documented and presentable and have it at the ready for encounters with other researchers is immensely powerful.

For example, Johann Peter Ricker, b. 1751, who still needs a lot of work, was recently “Discovered.”  I say discovered because a collateral Ricker researcher reached out to me to share information she discovered. Peter Ricker b. 1721 had long been entrenched in Ricker lore as the head of this line.  Because the person who put him there was well loved and respected, no one dared question his age and ask for proof.  As we all know, this is very hard to combat.

Our collateral researcher discovered a birth record of Johann Peter Ricker born 1751 and happened to reach out to me because of WikiTree.  We collaborated and used indirect proof to establish him as the rightful head of the line. I documented what we knew on his profile (still needs work as mentioned).

Recently I started helping a new Ricker researcher and I ran across some of those old entrenched Peter Ricker sites and wonder of all wonders, they now have Johann Peter Ricker born 1751 in his correct role as the current head of this line.

WikiTree is very powerful.  I can document my work, provide my sources and reasoning and then spread it around the world both actively and passively.  Now, when a Ricker researcher Googles Peter Ricker,  they see our work on WikiTree.  WikiTree is a force for good on the internet and genealogy in general.

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

Be patient, take it slow and give it time.  Like the Game of Genealogy, success is won in small bytes.  WikiTree is a paradigm shift in thinking.

Pretty much all other online sites force you into an individualized experience.  It is my belief that this contributes greatly to the “My Tree” or “My Ancestor” attitudes we have all encountered.  “You are ultimately responsible for your own work” is drilled into our heads, precisely because of all the bad work out there. They covet the work they have done and despise all the garbage out there.  Who can blame them. It is very difficult to reach out and effect change let along get into a polite discussion about sources.

WikiTree turns that upside down.  The Honor Code establishes the collaborative culture needed to support good sourcing and good communication.  G2G and all our collaboration tools puts that culture to work. This is a totally new experience.

So, when a new WikiTreer joins us, pretty much the whole of their experience has been of the “My Tree” culture.  It is what they have been taught. New WikiTreers need to give themselves time to shed that mentality and embrace the serious fun that awaits them.

And Ask Questions!!!

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

“Second star on the right and strait on ’til morning” – Captain James T Kirk quoting J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan.


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  2 Responses to “Meet our Members: Michael Stills”

  1. Hi Michael, I can see we’re related. I guess that makes us cousins or something. Its so fascinating all the connections.
    Sincerely Jeannie

  2. I absolutely loved reading your interview. Gave me hope that I will still be able to push farther back and overcome my greatest “brick wall”. Dang ancestor must be an alien…rofl.

    I also loved your message to your descendants! Star Trek fan here!

    Looking for parents of George W(ashington??) Thornburg b 1848 ish in Indiana or Illinois. Lived in Oklahoma in the late 1800’s early 1900’s. Think I would shoot him myself if he weren’t already dead.


    Cheryl Thornburg Crosswell

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