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 SJ.

SJ Baty became a WikiTreer in March of this year.  He is a Project Coordinator for both the Spanish Orphan Trails Project and the William Penn and Early Pennsylvania Settlers projects. In addition, he volunteers as a Data Doctor, Sourcerer and Ranger.

What are some of the surnames you are researching?

I’m just wrapping up my research of the Clayton family line.  The most prominent member of this family is Quaker and early Pennsylvania settler William Clayton, my 10th great-grandfather, and a member of the first Pennsylvania Provincial Council.  He migrated to the new world in 1677 (years before the arrival of William Penn).  I spent about the last two months reading and researching about him. I found that there were many inaccuracies in the contemporary history about him (and on his WikiTree biography) and I tried to correct those errors.  In addition to giving his WikiTree bio a makeover, I also created profiles for his newly discovered grandparents and great-grandparents.

I am now working on his daughter’s profile: Mary (Clayton) Beals, and her husband, John Beals.  And this will transition me to the Beals family line this month. I plan to improve other Beal’s profiles including John & Mary’s grandson Thomas Beals (my 7th great-grandfather), a prominent Quaker minister.

When I started my tree I had no idea that I had Quaker ancestors and I have since found them in several branches.  Thankfully the Quakers kept a lot of records and it makes connecting the profiles much easier than some of the other ancestors that I have researched.

What are some of the locations you are researching?

My work on the Clayton and Beals families brought me into contact with the William Penn and Early Pennsylvania Settlers project.  I have since been inducted as the project’s coordinator and I am hungrily reading every book I can find on early Pennsylvania history.  I have since learned that early Pennsylvania had some territorial overlap with parts of Delaware and west New Jersey. And when the colony was founded there were already existing New Sweden and New Netherlands communities.  I am learning quite a bit of history not only about Quakers and other Anglo settlers but about Dutch and Swedish settlers, and also quite a lot about the Native American populations that were displaced by these migrations. Genealogy can provide you with a great education in geography and history if you pay attention to the locations and details!

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

I was a History major in University and I always enjoyed reading about and studying history.  I didn’t know much at all about my own family history but I had always had a desire to learn more.  It was when the internet opened wide in the 90s that I was really able to start looking for records.  I read a genealogy paper that said the best place to start was to interview the eldest members of your family.  

When I started 21 years ago, I knew the names of only my grandparents and two or three great-grandparents.  I didn’t know a single one of my 32 great-great-great-grandparents. Fast forward 21 years and in April of this year I knew 30 of 32.  And through my interactions in the Sweden Project, Eva Ekeblad led me to a record that revealed my last two unknown 3x great-grandparents and now I know all 32 of them!

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

I would have to say that this is Samuel H. Baty, my direct paternal 3x great-grandfather.  Samuel’s parents died when he was a boy and for the last century and a half, our entire family did not know if we were even members of the Baty family; perhaps he was adopted by a Baty family and we were all Smiths. Luckily, there is a wonderful and very extensive Beatty/Beaty/Baty family research group. When genealogy DNA became available, many members of the group submitted their DNA as did I. We were able to determine that Samuel was a Baty and I was able to make contact with some distant relatives.

Samuel settled in Iowa just before the Civil War and raised 14 children.  I probably have spent more time researching him than any of my other ancestors and I feel like he is an old friend.  My family even think I look like him a little 😉

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down or one you hope to bust through.

Following that genealogy advice I received 21 years ago, “Interview your family members,” I  interviewed my mother (maiden name Ranck) and learned the following from her:

She told me that her father Paul Ranck was born in Wyoming and that he and his parents, Elmer and Faye Mary (Abbott) Ranck came to California in the early 1900s looking for work.  She said that the entire family had originally come from Tennessee. She also told me that Elmer’s father, Oliver Goldsmith Ranck wasn’t from Tennessee. He was in the Union Army during the Civil War and he fought his way through Tennessee and liked it so much that he decided to migrate there after the war.  The only other information she had was that he married one of the Harrison girls, twins, either Adelaide or Adalinda Harrison.

I began searching and found some index entries for Oliver Ranck who served in the Illinois 50th Infantry Regiment (the “Blind Half Hundred”).  Sure enough, this regiment fought their way through Tennessee. I then wrote to the Illinois, Secretary of State, and ordered a copy of his enlistment records. On those records I learned his place of birth (White Deer Township, Union County, Pennsylvania), his height, eye color and all sorts of other details. Later, through paid sites, I found his pension record, being paid to Adalinda Ranck in Tennessee. Searching the census records I found the Harrison family and sure enough, Adalinda had a twin sister, Adelaide. So far, everything that my mother had learned via family legend was accurate. Searching through more online records in White Deer Township, I found Oliver’s siblings, his mother Elizabeth, and his father, Jesse Ranck.

And the trail went cold for the next decade.  I kept researching by digging through the sibling’s records, their children and grandchildren.  I found that Oliver’s brothers and sisters were: Thaddeus, Henrietta (married Josiah Tull), Robert, Elizabeth, and Andrew. I sought out living descendants of the siblings hoping that someone would have a family bible or a detailed tree. I found, through Oliver’s brother, a record of the maiden name of their mother: Elizabeth Fisher.

I had heard that a book, “The Rank of the Rancks,” had a grand genealogy of many of the Ranck families in America. I looked and looked for a copy but as it was privately published, no copies were available. Eventually, after many years, the Ranck Society (Ranck.org) published a copy of the volume online and I quickly went to the index and looked for Jesse Ranck and I found several. I eventually found an entry for Jesse Ranck, son of John Ranck, listing his children including children Henrietta and Andrew. The entry showed that Henrietta was married and her married name was “Cull.”

Allen Ranck, the author of the book, died of cancer while trying to complete the book.  He rushed the best that he could to complete it before his death. The book had many simple spelling mistakes and Henrietta’s married name of Cull instead of Tull is likely one of them.  There were no other Jesse Rancks in White Deer Township in the decade before or after this family, so we are convinced that Jesse Ranck, father of Henrietta Tull is the same Jesse Ranck, father of Henrietta Cull.

The brick wall was knocked down and we learned that Jesse’s line continued for five more generations:

John Ranck, b. 1784, White Deer Township, Union, Pennsylvania
John Ranck, b. 1742, East Earl, Lancaster County, Province of Pennsylvania
John Philip Ranck, b. 31 Jan 1704, Neckerau, Mannheim, Baden (currently Germany)
Hans Valentine Ranck, b. about 1668 in France or Palatine (currently Germany)
Reverend Jean Valentine Ranc, b. about 1641, in France or Palatine (currently Germany)

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing?

According to my WikiTree profile, I signed up a little less than six months ago (3 March 2018).  Roughly speaking, I spend about a quarter of my time working on the profiles of my ancestors; I am checking to make sure each has at least a primary source and then developing the rest with fully written and sourced bios. When you put your tree into wiki and you link in to existing profiles, sometimes you find dozens and dozens of connected ancestors that you didn’t know about and they are not always sourced well. My goal is that every profile in my tree is sourced well and has a full and developed biography.

About a quarter of my time is spent working on the two projects where I serve as project coordinator: the Spain Orphan Trail Project (a sub-project) of the Spain project, and the William Penn and Early Pennsylvania Settlers Project.  

At these projects, I am led by three amazing leaders: Maggie N., Susie MacLeod, Wendy Sullivan. Maggie is the leader of the Penn Project and we are working on building up the project page and expanding membership.  Susie and Wendy lead the Spain Project and Bonnie Saunders is the coordinator. I work with them also as a member of the Spain Profiling project and I am also helping to build the Spanish Orphan Trail Project. The Spain Orphan project is a direct copy of the England Orphan Profilers Team lead by Ros Haywood.  Ros has allowed me to shamelessly plagiarize much of her work and for that I will be forever grateful.

Another quarter of my time is doing other project work with the Data Doctors and the Sourcerers.  I try to correct errors and source un-sourced profiles.

And I think that the last quarter of my time is spent on G2G posting and reading other questions, comments and answers, emailing cousins and other researchers about work we’re collaborating on, reading background history for profiles I’m working on, and now (new this month) working my shift as a Ranger: I have a time slot on Tuesday (team: Tuesday Ardenaire).

What brought you to WikiTree? (In other words, how did you find us?)

I have worked on my family tree for about 21 years and I have huge files full of research and documents. I wanted to publish it on the internet so that relatives (near and far) and descendants could read and enjoy the work I’ve done.  I looked at several platforms and I was very turned off by the sites that are happy to take the research I’ve done, and then charge a subscription to sell it to my cousins.  I have no problem with paying an Ancestry.com subscription to view the records that they have cataloged, but if I find a source document at the Illinois archives, how can I share it openly and freely on the internet?  

I tried several platforms and I was never satisfied. Once I tried WikiTree, I was hooked. It is open, fosters collaboration, and I believe it will be here in the long run. I hope to think that my great-grandchildren will be able to open their tablet and read about their ancestors – work that I’ve researched and/or written – and they won’t need a credit card and a password to access it.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree, or which feature(s) do you like the most?

Sorry, can’t just choose one.  Two things: first, I love that it is free.  There is nothing more frustrating than finding a record that “might” fit your ancestor but you can’t find out unless you pay a $30-40 subscription fee.  Genealogy is about sharing and it is easier to share when there are no pay-walls. And second, that there is only one profile per person. Some ancestors at the big paid sites may have 100 duplicate profiles.  This makes research very difficult and inaccurate. I very much like that there is competition at WikiTree: if you post something inaccurate, there is a good chance that your 4th cousins will hold you to a higher standard on your shared ancestor’s profile.  And other cousins can “piggyback” your research and add to it. This collaborative work produces a better quality profile than 100 people working on 100 profiles.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

I would like very much to help others to understand the importance of good sourcing.  While it may be sufficient to merely cite the name of a book or census record, I believe that we should put more effort into the description of the information.  Instead of writing:

Jones, Mike. “The history of the Jones family,” 1938.

Better, would be to add some detail and tell what Jones said.  Make it clear to a reader who may come and read your source in 10 years after the website with the Jones family history has been shut down.  I wish we would more often see:

According to the research of Jones, Mary was the second daughter of George and Mary.  Using the Smith family bible (now in the possession of Margaret Smith) Mike Jones was able to identify that a first daughter, Ellen, died as an infant, as cited in: Jones, Mike. “The history of the Jones family,” 1938.

Just two weeks ago I saw a Find A Grave source for a family line I was working on. On the Find A Grave page, in the bio, I found ancestors that went back several generations earlier than my own previous research.  Unfortunately, the work was not sourced. I immediately scrolled to the bottom of the page to find the author so that I could contact them and ask how they found this information. I found the author, Dorothy Gaston and then clicked on her Find A Grave profile to see if I could email her.  I found this: “Fallen Graver: Sadly, Dorothy Gaston has passed away.” If she did have any sources, it will be a lot harder for me to find them now. I do not know if her children saved her files and/or if they will be accessible. Sadly, we may never know; her years of work may be lost.

This is the beauty of WikiTree: what you post today, will be available for generations.  But, be sure to source your work, and source it well. If you spend the time to build a nice house, be sure to put in the time to build a door on it so that others can come in!

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy or how you’ve helped genealogy with WikiTree?

When I entered my tree on WikiTree, I found, many times, that some of my ancestors were already in the system and they were sourced with information that I had not yet discovered.  In this way, WikiTree helps me, and helps all of us every day. And there are enormous resources to help you discover your ancestors: WikiTree has volunteers who can help you find records, translate them, look in places you hadn’t thought of, and many other ways to help you research.  When you get “stuck” you can post to the G2G forum and others will help you out. As I mentioned earlier Eva helped me find my last two missing 3x great-grandparents!

Any tips for someone just getting started on WikiTree?

Take notes and save files.  When you come back to a branch of your family tree in 2 or 3 years, there is a good chance you won’t remember much of what you’ve done.  I created a file for each of my grandparents surnames. Inside those four files are file names with each of the surnames in their trees. Inside of each surname file there is a file for each individual saved by year of birth and name (file name: 1641 Jean RANC).  In this way, the names inside of each surname file are kept in order by oldest to newest. This makes it a lot easier to find individuals especially when father and son share the same given name. William Clayton who I mentioned earlier is the third of at least 4 successive Claytons with the first name William.  It can get hard telling which William from the other and starting file names with birth dates keeps them in line. Inside each parent file and individual profile file, I keep a text document and add notes of what I last worked on, links, etc. You will find your notes invaluable when you come back to profiles after breaks of months or years.

And, someday when you die, your grandchildren will be able to pick up where you left off and continue your research.

And lastly, when you see a document, photo, file, anything of value to your profile, save it and also “print to PDF” a screen shot of the index (the page with all the text – this will also preserve the web address and you can get back to that website easily).  Save those photos and files! – you may come back next year and find that the website you accessed earlier has been closed and you lost your chance to preserve that record to your files.


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  8 Responses to “Meet our Members: SJ Baty”

  1. Wow, you are so organized! Thank you for the inspiration. I am going to borrow your file method you mentioned, because my genealogical file folder is a little out of control on my computer. haha.

  2. Very interesting and inspiring profile! Love it. This is a good profile to share with non-WikiTreers to explain why the website is great for people who want to leave their family history preserved for their children and grandchildren.

  3. I just love the integrity and community of Wikitree. I never thought of it like that. But, yes, it is a bit disgusting that the other sites charge us for us to do the work and then sell it to our cousins.

    • And fantastic work going through and jumping in and correcting the garbage that’s out there with well-researched and thoughtful genealogy.

  4. SJ, you’re the total package. Smart and cute! and organized. Thanks for the embeddable family tree hint, I shall work on mine.

  5. Thanks for all of the great information … and thanks for your dedication to Wikitree. Was fun to read this article.

  6. Looking at the 20 degrees connection, we are connected by my 5th great grandmother, Mary Blair. She was wife of Capt. Moses Guest, revolutionary war soldier of some distinction. The family went on to name several sons Morgan after her mother Sarah Morgan (6GG), and my son is named Morgan. I didn’t know until I started to research ancestors where the name originated. Through DNA testing I also discovered ancestors from Spain who sailed to Louisiana in 1778 to act as soldier settlers in the new Spanish-Louisiana colony. They were Juan Miguez and Salvadora De Quero. It was a surprise to me that I had Spanish ancestry. I too have brick walls but this has been a fascinating and very enjoyable search. I have learned so much.

  7. Hello SJ Baty,

    In the WikiTree Family News, I noticed that you are the Project Coordinator for the Early Pennsylvania Settlers Project.

    Perhaps you can help. I’m blind and rely on a screen reader to access WikiTree.com and the Web. This restricts my Web searches to text based material. Along with my wife’s family notes (which contain some errors), I have relied extensively on Family Search and the Canadian Census web sites.

    I don’t know that I could contribute much to the project but, I hope that you can help me in my searching of some Sharons in Pennsylvania (before 1798).

    The oldest WikiTree Sharon profile I created was for Thomas Sharon (ID=Sharon98), Born 20 Sep 1798 in Redstone, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. My source for his information is no longer available:
    http://ancestralfindings.com/Pennsylvania.htm

    In his profile, I list his father, grandfather … going back to William Sharon (Ayrshire farmer) settled in Velster Cty. Pennsylvania,about 1737.

    One of these Pennsylvania Sharons is an ancestor of US Senator William Sharon, born 1821 in Ohio (perhaps ID=Sharon-96).

    It would be nice to connect more of these Sharon profiles.

    Can you point me to any Pennsylvania (text) sources that I might explore? Thank You.

    Peter Tesar — Tesar-14

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