Is there a reasonable stopping point on a side branch?

+46 votes
If I'm in the wrong place, someone please redirect me.  I often follow tangents until I reach a point where I have to wonder:  Do I include in my family tree my great-aunt's husband's first wife's sister's child? or something like that.  I.e., at what point is it reasonable to terminate that lead?  I prefer thick branches on my tree to going out too far on one limb, but what's too far?  Thanks for any suggestions.
in The Tree House by Janet Glaspie G2G1 (1.6k points)
Thank you, Rick, for bring up the topic of the U.S. Census, which has been a great tool for all of us. For more information, see:
An example about why I'll travel down that merry path of flushing out the family tree twigs: it can help me better understand cross-border migratory routes. I have a fair number of early New England direct ancestors who's descendants suddenly headed due North in the mid 1700's to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Sourcing these migrations can be troublesome. If I'm scratching my head over the specific reason for a relocation to the 'Great White North' (because, say, a land grant isn't showing up in the online records) I found it helps if I understand where all their 1st and 2nd cousins were residing and sure enough I'll discover one or two of them also migrated northward. (Extended) families would make these kind of relocations in groups (safety in numbers). Later though I also laughed/cried; they all 'high-tail' it back to New England after 1 or 2 generations. Apparently it was abit too cold further north.   :-)
it is in the eye of the beholder,
The farther back in time you can go with your genealogical research the higher the likelihood that branches will connect in more than one place. I found an ancestor of mine who was an ancestor of both the father and mother of another ancestor. This forms a loop. The same ancestor was discovered back 5 generations on one side of the family and appeared again 6 generations earlier on the other side of the family. This discovery illustrates how useful the pie charts can be.
Apologies if a previous comment already covered this comment, but I decided to flesh out my tree to "reach" as many of my DNA matches as I can. As my tree builds, I begin recognizing many of the different surnames I have added when looking at new DNA matches. Often they descend from siblings to others that I have previously added. With so many matches to sort through, patterns do begin to emerge. I also have the satisfaction of knowing what the actual relationship to the DNA match is in relationship to the predicted relationship provided by the testing company.
Look at the dates, maybe they were English loyalists fleeing the Revolution to Canada, possibly joining an already existing relative, then a couple generations later decided the US was better...
I don't follow up side branches, only blood lines. That might include an aunt, uncle, or brother or sister, but not their husbands or wives.
I've seen folks who specialized in Civil War history who would work up the genealogies for an entire military unit.  It was really interesting because then you could see the personal connections between the soldiers.  Some of them would be brothers or brothers-in-law, cousins, members of the same church or Masonic lodge, etc.

Rick Morley: thanks for your comment abt. looking at the dates of those ancestors who relocated to Nova Scotia & New Brunswick, as maybe they were Loyalists (UEL's): I'm right there with you on this laugh  I'm one of those people who has to understand the context of an issue/event so I research backgrounds until I'm out of breath and have to get moving on profile development. You're absolutely correct; they were both UEL's and planters. One group fleeing just aft. 1776 and the other taking advantage of the expulsion of the Acadians crying  Context is incredibly revealing and leads to more clues. I've learned more about American history since working in WikiTree than all my years of education. Who knew this was genealogy? I love it!

I'll follow the leads and learn some history as well, but not till I'm out of breath- never stop breathing over this...  I just enjoy the learning!

32 Answers

+23 votes
Best answer
Every profile you add is one more for the world wide wikitree. I do the same, creating a lot of sidebranches, especially when trying to connect someone to the tree. I try to complete these profiles as good  as I can and then I let them go, remove myself as manager and from their trusted list. In this way my watchlist won't become too clutterd with non relatives. And somewhere out there, someone else can adopt them if they want to.
by Eef van Hout G2G6 Mach 8 (86.7k points)
selected by Robert Charpentier
That's the spirit (of wikitree)
+43 votes
This is a great question, I find myself doing the same thing.  I don't think there's a good reason to stop, but at the same time I say to myself why not continue.  I have had a few distant relatives contact me and thank me for all the help. People who I have never met will send thanks and continue on the branch. Have fun going down rabbit holes, I do!
by Kevin Conroy G2G6 Mach 5 (58.4k points)
Hello Kevin, I wonder if you might define "rabbit hole" for me. I have seen the term used on WikiTree and most likely I have gone down at least one, not knowing what it was. Is it the opposite of a "brick wall"—a branch of the tree for which you find so much information that you spend hours and hours documenting profiles?

Could it be a false branch of the family tree involving names that we think are relatives but really are not—they just have the same name?
Marion,  To me a rabbit hole is finding a branch and following it for hours or even days.
Hi Marion, my favorite explanation of a rabbit hole is this:

"In a fall down the rabbit hole, an individual sets off on the path with a goal, gets sidetracked by various events and changes direction several times along the way, eventually ending up somewhere unexpected, typically without having satisfied the original purpose of the quest. Nevertheless, the path often leads to serendipitous discoveries. Furthermore, according to the principle of obliquity, the meandering path may eventually turn out to be more productive than a more direct one." ~~from
Hello Joyce, thank you for that explanation. It seems that I am in a rabbit hole right here and now. The keywords are "sidetracked," "unexpected," "serendipitous," and "productive." The original topic was where to stop when researching side branches, but now I have learned all about rabbit holes, which have their fascination. With a little serendipity, an excursion down a rabbit hole may even lead to an unexpected tunnel under a genealogical "brick wall." There was a saying about "the path less traveled..."
Thank you, Kevin for your perspective, which ties in with Joyce's definition. When something is even more productive than the original goal and the path forward is more indirect, you can spend lots of time on it.
+38 votes
The goal of WikiTree is to create one world tree including everybody, so you can never go too far!

Of course, you should be careful not to create any duplicates.

Personally, I have found that going out onto side branches from my direct ancestors leads to some of the most satisfying research, with complex relationships and interesting histories.

It also feels good to push your ancestral line back as far as you can. But often the information needed to do that becomes sparse, with brick walls, so the side branches in more recent times are easier to work on.
by Jim Richardson G2G6 Mach 9 (98.1k points)
+34 votes
In my opinion, you can never go too far. There comes a time when you start to transcribe parish registers end to end. Then you're ready for a One Place study, which has some obvious benefits because you will be able to see details that are lost on the casual researcher.

Here in Norway, I consider it as the only way to do a thorough genealogy, because our patronymic system tends to create a maze with lots of similar names. You really have to aquire a massive local domain knowledge in order to do anything useful.
by Leif Biberg Kristensen G2G6 Mach 9 (98.2k points)
Oh those Parish Records (and early wills and pre-Revolutionary Court transcriptions) will trap me EVERY time! I can spend weeks looking for matching profiles here so I can add that "bit" of sourced information! I find doing "single-source" or "specific location" research a nice break from family research.

Regarding the "depth or breadth" query, I have tended to do direct line profiles first, back as far as I can go with documentation. Then I go start at the "bottom" of my own family tree (i.e., my mom), and fill in for another generation everything I know or can discover: Her siblings and their families. Then I go to my dad and do the same. Then mom's mom... etc... all back through time.
+21 votes
I agree, this is a great topic!     I too like thick branches, especially since you often find valuable information related to your direct line ancestors.

I also enjoy participating in the annual  Connect A Thon.   So I certainly input the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc.. then I keep a list of lines to extend during the Connect A Thon.

Just my approach.
by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (426k points)
You have a good approach, Peggy. I also enjoy the Connect-A-Thon. I even connected some of profiles of my relatives to other profiles already on WikiTree, which is a very important part of the Connect-A-Thon.
+29 votes
Keep going - increases the chances of finding some fascinating people and stories about them  

Often when I keep adding profiles, and reach that point of wondering who those people are and where oh where I am, I run into a family that has someone that married into a family close to my main branch, that I've already entered and end up right back where I started.
by Patricia Roche G2G6 Pilot (428k points)
+19 votes
Unless I see a benefit, I don't do in laws families, sometimes with more than one intermarriage between families it can provide useful information especially in small towns or districts of larger towns.
by M Ross G2G6 Mach 9 (98.1k points)

I do, because following the trail can be extremely interesting.  I have done this more than once and found connections in the least expected places. But, then, I also seem to have developed a habit of chasing

M, in some geographic areas where my families have been for a long time, everybody is related to some degree or another, or at least it seems so. That’s an incentive for me to keep adding to families. I know I’ll see them again later.

Pip, I didn't say I haven't ever, wink with a total of about 4000 relatives in my family and my husband's and only 1242 of them currently on my watch list, I have a lot of profiles to add before getting into the in laws of my 5 X grt Uncles or 4C1R. 

My Alton Cemetery project-it isn't on WikiTree- is an attempt by 3 cousins to define the relationships between the 738 people buried in that cemetery-because almost all of the people buried there before 1930 are somehow related to my husband,  and that's enough in laws for me!

Interesting point about intermarriage. I have an ancestor whose brother married the sister of his wife, so the two brothers in one family were related by marriage to two sisters. Does anyone know if there is a special term for the double cousin children of these unions?

The brothers:

Their wives, the sisters:

This interesting situation is reason enough to explore side branches. You never know what you will find!
You are right it is called double cousins.

There are several instances of brothers marrying sisters in my husband's family, hmmm that doesn't sound quite right, not their own sisters, women who are sisters to each other.

There is also I think 3 cases when;

Brother #1 married sister #1

Brother # 2 married sister #2,

Then brother #1 died and sister #2 died,

Then brother #2 married sister #1,

What are the children called, cousins, stepsiblings, and this makes my head hurt, what is their relationship with children born to the new marriage?

This took place in a village that has never had more then 400 people.
Thank you for your comment, M. This is really very interesting, especially when you ask, "What do we call them?" It turns out that in English this is different from some aboriginal languages, which have many specialized terms to indicate kinship. For example, first cousin once removed. How do you know which is the older one? We don't know from the English term, but most likely other languages have terms to describe it. I hope that anyone who speaks one of these languages would help by telling us their experience.
I'm not sure if this helps, this has information about various sorts of cousins including Cross Cousin Marriage, it's part of a what seems to be a course on Kinship and Social Organization
I agree with Melanie about finding interesting things. I’m currently researching my gg grand mother’s cousins cousins. My gg grandmother was a very ordinary woman; the other family were so much more notable and interesting. (e.g. one married the founder of the first Jewish synagogue in Wellington, New Zealand aged about 14). My ancestor probably knew them quite well. It’s fleshed out what I’ve gleaned about her.
My Gorman great grandfather and his brother married an aunt and niece, who were only 2 years apart in age and were raised as sisters. Makes for "interesting" DNA research.

Elsie, I have a cousin who is descended from our same common ancestors five different ways. That oughta tell you how interrelated folks are where I live! surprise

My record is 4 known connections for this same remote area
Thank you for the link. I does help to understand the possibilities at a greater level of detail.
+23 votes
Isn't it nice that we can cater for all types of researchers? Some love working on creating full fletched biographies for direct ancestors, others like to complete unknown families while yet other care for the unsourced and/or unconnected profiles of unrelated people.

We all work on the same goal: just choose what you like and get positive energy from that!
by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (176k points)
My approach is to pick the low hanging fruit. If I have extensive biographical information, I fill that in. If I know good sources for ancestors and their brothers and sisters, I create profiles. If I find a profile of a family member that another genealogist created and I have additional sources, I add them to the profile. I select whatever seems easiest to do. Whereas I would like to break down brick walls, this is not always possible, at least not yet.
+19 votes

Everyone at some point has this exact problem! It's like starting a jigsaw puzzle, except there are no edge pieces!

Even though the Watchlist limit is 5000 profiles, I cannot fathom having to mind that many people! I am trying to get my list down to a mere one thousand laugh .

So I have devised a plan for myself, where I keep the "treetop" or "brickwall" ancestors, and slowly purge the descendant profiles.

However, I do not remove myself from the profile if they are still living or I am unable to completely source them.

I stop adding profiles of descendants when their birthdates go beyond what I can source, or for people who may still be living (right now this is about 1915). I will make a list of children on the parents' profiles so the information is there in a few years when the birth records become available. I will also place the parents into the appropriate "Needs Profiles Created" category. 

by Christine Daniels G2G6 Mach 9 (96.8k points)

Love this: "It's like starting a jigsaw puzzle, except there are no edge pieces!"

Christine, I agree, eventually after I get all the generations of profiles created I will probably only keep my direct line on my watchlist.

An example one of my 6 X Grt Grandfathers born 1709 had 6 siblings, and 10 children I do have records of their births and baptisms, but I am not planning to do any further research on them at this time, except of course on his daughter my 5 x Grt grandmother. I think some of my cousins may have researched them.
Also the jigsaw puzzle does not have all its pieces, so we have gaps and holes where we would like to have information and certainty instead.
+16 votes
If they are interesting, I keep going.  I've often thought it would be fun to do the area my ancestors called home.  My ancestors from a couple of lines lived in Butler Co., Ohio in the 1820s and 1830s.  Couldn't be too many people there at the time.  Maybe one day I'll research them all since they would have all been well known to my ancestors.
by Bev Nohr G2G Crew (680 points)
It is very interesting to look at the relationships between people in a defined area, almost all of my husband's immigrant ancestors came to Canada before 1850 and were the original settlers in several Ontario locations, the number of intermarriages in these often tiny places is significant. The stories of how these villages developed is written in the relationships between the people who lived there.
I'm doing that for my surname in my home state of NSW up to 1850. It's fun and may prove to be a relative catcher
+18 votes
I have a hard time not falling down rabbit holes and have to consider how much of my own family I still have left to work on (tons!) However, sometimes, I know I’m going to come across one of those tangential lines again, so I continue to add.
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
+18 votes
I often follow a branch of the family until I establish a connection into another exisiting tree.  After all, the purpose of WikiTree is to establish connections in the world wide family, but it also makes the Wednesday email much more fun if there are closer connections to featured individuals and through different branches of the family.
by Andrew Hall G2G1 (2.0k points)
+13 votes
How far you go back in time or into side branches is certainly up to you.  Personally, I am researching ancestors back to 1600, an artificial, temporary limit because I am finding so many of them.  Generally, for ancestors born since 1900, I include side branches in order to include cousins with whom I have been in touch.
by Richard Clarke G2G1 (1.2k points)
+14 votes
The only reasonable reason to stop working on a branch is when there are no more records available.

Just an example: Long before I started genealogy, I knew a man who came from a little town beside the town where my grandmother lived. We had a great relationship before he had to move because of his job. That was way before social media and that stuff, so we lost contact. Years later I started building my family tree, and there I found his surname. I was surprised, but in that moment I thought: I might have to find all folks with his surname just to give him the possibility to tell me when I could get in touch with him again: "Hey, that guy is my greatgrandfather!"

I still didn't do that, but currently I am (on MyHeritage) working to make profiles for another surname that is quite prominent in one of my cousin lines. These surname projects can build the tree and lead to some surprises.
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (617k points)
+16 votes
My uncle was doing genealogy before I was interested. I got interested a few years later, and when he passed away, I got his work from my aunt. Of course I added all his family - and added many more to it - even though he was related by marriage. I figure why not, he did a lot of work, might as well be preserved somewhere besides a floppy and yellowed printouts.
by Jon Slaton G2G4 (5.0k points)
It is great that you did that Jon. Imagine if our predecessor family genealogists had the tools that we have now on WikiTree, what they could have accomplished! They would be honored to know that we have continued the family traditions to document our ancestors and their history.
+13 votes
If you find the research is no longer fun, you have probably gone far enough.
by Bennet George G2G6 Mach 1 (10.9k points)
I would also offer your answer to most human endeavors, but in my experience, once hooked on study of history and particularly personal history, the fun only increases, frequently to point of obsession. Any who no longer are having fun on the WikiTree, please raise your hand.
+12 votes
I have been known to go down the rabbit hole with side branches. I feel like if I have found the documentation for a side branch, it will be helpful to that branch if they visit my tree. It is also handy when family members married cousins.  Though these rabbit hole adventures did cause me to create a separate tree of only direct ancestors. It becomes cumbersome to wade through all those cousins and in-law families after a while.
by Lee Elish G2G2 (2.1k points)
+15 votes
A Wiki is a crowd-sourced work of social art, similar to 'I was here' street art. Both groups work on a boundless canvas. It's emotional work, good for the soul. Put it all out there, limited only by ambition and energy.

I am mostly a blood line only researcher. With thousands of rabbit holes lurking in one's playfield, one risks sanity and having a life outside Wikitree to pursue more than a few hundred. But if I have information on a related line, I will add it to the closest blood relative's profile. It would be anti-social to simply let extra information languish unused in one's records.

DNA research has modified my approach significantly. The search to identify connections to DNA cousin matches demands that I follow forward, at least skeletally, these cousin lines. I still wait for cousin line members to complete these intermediate bios. But I give them a head start; seems easier to work on an existing bio than to begin creating from whole cloth.

Our work is permanent. And if someone defaces our artwork, makes an unartistic contribution, Wiki rules allow us to just paint over it.The good guys always outnumber the bad actors, and arbitration is available for most he-said she-said cases.

To ensure longevity of our tree, both on the front side and behind the scenes, we should all enlist new, younger members to carry on. In my case, it is son Barry, who has surpassed my 30 year effort in less than two years.
by Weldon Smith G2G6 Mach 2 (20.4k points)
Well stated, Weldon. I agree with your points, especially about having a life outside of WikiTree. We must try to have well-rounded lives, not only for our own enjoyment, but also as examples for the successor genealogists in our families. I have so much information and photos of relatives, it would be a shame not to contribute the best of the best to WikiTree. It has attracted the attention of cousins, whom I enjoy meeting, and whom I would not have met any other way.
Thank you, Marion.
I like your description-a blood line only researcher- It's a clear explanation.
Thank you Ms M.
+11 votes
All of the answers supplied so far are interesting and all have valid points. My stopping criteria may be different from some others. I continue with side branches if:

1. A good source of information is available to identify and/or describe relatives uniquely,

2. If a living cousin would like me to fill in their direct ancestry with profiles to link to my tree,

3. If the biography contains some unique or interesting information about that person, particularly if they are notable.

4. If I have time to get involved with it.

Usually, criterion number 1 limits what I can do and fortunately, not all of my many cousins have requested help, or I would never leave the computer terminal!
by Marion Ceruti G2G6 Mach 8 (89.2k points)
+9 votes
If I have documents or sources that have the name of parents, children, etc of an in-law or even an in-laws in-law. I feel I should add it. I might be able to provide help to someone looking for their family. I have a to do list so if I am working on a family line I can come back to the in-law.
by Stacie Briggs G2G6 Mach 1 (15.8k points)

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