Current Personal Goal- all descendants of 4th great grandparents

+15 votes
I always focus on going back in time, but since I've done DNA I've reilized how little some people have done of their own trees. I even have some wonderful matches who have linked their gedmatch to wikitree, with fairly well done trees, and still cant find the connection. I'm hoping if I can trace the descendants of the 47/64 4 times great grandparents I know, I can hopefully figure out more of the matches and how they relate to me, and then use them and the unknowns to try to fill in the blanks.

It'd be lovely to knock it out in a week, but I have no idea how many offspring one 4x's greatgrandparent could be expected to produce. I also don't know how many of my 47 known are going to be in nice couples or how many will have other divorces and remarriages or spouses after the first's death. To try to estimate the work, I'm ignoring the fact that some lines have kids faster or slower than other lines. I'm also going by US numbers, as I think my 4th greats were the last ones born in the "Old Country".

Doing the math for a complete set of 60 4x's-great grandparents:
Earlist data I can easily find is that around 1850 it would be more common to have 6-9 kids in each family. My 4x's greats would be born around 1830's mostly with kids born around 1860, so 1850 may be around when they had families.

If I have 6 kids per couple (6*30) - there would be 180 in my 3x's great grandparents generation. With 9 in each family it would be 270. The average of these two is 225.

 useing this for average household size, and assuming two parents for the rest of the years:

Born 1860's and having kids in 1890's, the average was 3 kids in 1890, so 225 would have 675 children to make up my 2x's great grandparents generation.

Born in 1890's and having kids in 1910's, having an average of two kids, the number doubles to 1350 in my great grandparents generation.

Born around 1910, and having kids around 1930, with an average of two kids, there would be 2700 in my grandparents generation

Born around 1930 and having kids around 1960, with an average of one kid (3.35 average household number minus 2 parents) is another 2700 in my parents generation

Born around 1960 and having kids around 1990, with an average of one kid, there should be 2700 in my generation.

Adding those all up, that's 10350 people. For now, I'm estimating I will do a month to find, add, and source descendants. I have no idea if that's reasonable or not, but I'm going with it for now. I'm guessing the last half of my and my parents generations will be alive and therefore private, possibly even the grandparents. So more realistically it'd be 2500-5000 I'm finding.
asked in The Tree House by Allison Schaub G2G6 (10k points)
edited by Ellen Smith

Hi, Allison. There have been some studies that estimated exactly that: expected count of cousins by degree of relationship. Here's an image of a table from one of them (the link to the study published in PLOS is here). They come up with a bit more than half of your estimate, but it all depends upon, as you note, the period and the people. I think the family with the greatest number of children in my line was a man married three times that had a total of 24 kids. The mind boggles.  ;-)

And that table offers a good reason to work backward chronologically. There isn't going to me much mileage gained with autosomal DNA by looking at all the descendants of your 4g-grandparents. If contemporary generations, that would make them your 5th cousins. The theoretical, expected DNA sharing at that point is only about 3cM, and as that study indicates, there's only about a 15% chance you'll share any detectable amount of DNA with any given 5th cousin...that puts the odds at 11:2, two detectable matches for every 13 cousins tested. Kind of a point of diminishing returns.

Looking at the statistics from my own tree, I can tell you that how prolific a family is varies wildly.

My Stanley (Standley) side was extremely prolific. Gt-gt-gt grandpa Standley, born in the late 1790s, had 9 children. I have tracked down about 85% of his gt-gt grandchildren (my father's generation), and estimate that there are about 600 of them. I've estimated that my generation must have about 1600, and there are grandparents and probably even great-grandparents among us. So there are undoubtedly THOUSANDS of living descendants from just these TWO gt-gt-gt grandparents, and that Mrs. Standley was one of about 10 children, herself. Her family was generally just as prolific, so there easily could be 10,000 descendants of just my Heckathorn 4gt grandparents out there - 5th cousins, give or take.

The distribution of those descendants is wildly uneven. One of the Standleys' children had a small family, and there are ZERO known descendants. At the other extreme, the descendants of children #2 and #3, who had especially large families, account for about half of the overall descendant count. Basically, they had twice the average number of descendants of their siblings. Their generation is from the same time period as your gt-gt-gt-gt grandparents.

At the other extreme, my gt-gt-gt grandfather Cronin was born in 1800, and had at least 9 children, too. But 2 of those 9 children died before they got to be 5 years old. 2 others died in their 20s, without having married.

Of the remaining 5 of the Cronin children, one daughter had 8 children. They all lived to adulthood, but only 3 ever got married, only 2 of those 3 had any children. Despite having 8 children, there were only TWO grandchildren.

Another of the 5 had 4 children, but only 2 married; only 4 grandchildren there. There was also one who had only 2 children, one of whom had none of her own - only 2 grandchildren there. Another had 4 children, but only 2 grandchildren.

That leaves my own gt-gt grandfather Cronin, who had 6 children. Two died as children, two simply disappeared as young adults (foul play suspected in at least one case), and one was a daughter unable to have children. That leaves ONLY gt-grandpa Cronin, who had a bunch of daughters, 9 grandchildren, and dozens of gt-grandchildren (including me).

I get the impression that the bulk of the descendants of the original Cronin gt-gt-gt grandparents are my more immediate relatives, out to my 2nd cousins. Maybe a hundred or two living descendants - nobody more distantly-related than a 2nd cousin has been identified in my matches.

So, despite both being born around 1800, and having 9 kids, one has thousands of living descendants, while the other has maybe a couple of hundred. As you can see, it's not even just about having a bunch of kids - it's about whether they live to adulthood (about 1 in 6 didn't, back then), actually get married (well, back THEN!), and then actually have a bunch of kids of their own. Many hurdles!

Totally agree with Edison and Frank, you just don't know until you do the research! My GG was one of 16 to the same 2xGG only 7 of these siblings had children and yes my 2xGG was basically pregnant her entire life... 16 babies over 20 years! Q

This is also one of my personal goals. I haven't gotten very far though!

There are so many variables, as mentioned in other comments, that getting an estimate of descendants of 4xg grandparents is difficult. Shortly after I got interested in genealogy 45 years ago I decided to pick an ancestral couple on each of my 4 grandparent's paternal lines and research all  their descendants. I picked a 5xg gf who was born in 1744 and came to Nova Scotia in 1769 where he married. I have some information on 20,000 of their descendants (for his children I have between 5100 and 200 descendants). Another ancestor was my 3xg gf who was born in 1756 and came to Prince Edward Island in 1790 with his new wife. For them I have 3600 descendants. Another was a 4xg gf born in 1763 who came to Prince Edward Island with the Loyalists and married another shortly after. For them I have 9200 descendants. The fourth was a 1xg gf who came to Minnesota from Sweden ca 1865. For him and his three wives I only have 210 descendants. So three ancestors, all born within 20 years with between 3600 and 20000 descendants.

BTW while I have stopped activity searching for new descendants, I still add a couple of hundred descendants a year to the various lines after they find a relative on my website.

So, your mileage may vary.
I personally like Arthur's approach. I'm into the way back stuff and love researching that. My aunt and cousins are into tracing to current, keeping up with births and deaths, so we work well together.

I have added their "recent" findings, but only include to 1900 and the deceased in order to protect privacy for later descendants who could be traced.

The lovely aspect of wikitree is that I run into merges for most of my lines and can pile into those. Thanks! Those are almost always well documented by dedicated genealogists, and my connections are also.
When I did my research, I managed to make my way for most of my ancestors with in 4xg grandparents somewhat within 15 years.  A lost of this was down by using Family Search and Ancestry Family Trees.  However you need to be careful about sources.  I had to go back on those with no sources and research them individually using cenus reports, vital reports for the state they were in, newspapers, Fold 3, Find a Grave,, Pubic Directories , chrome, Geni, My Horizons and so much more.  I think that takes up most of the time, the sourcing.  And the time frame is based on whether you are working or not and how much time you can spend on it per day.  Unfortunately for me I didn't retire until after about the first time years and then it was full steam ahead lol.
I actually prefer doing court house research and searching through bits of paper. I love the smell! And my personal is collecting the hand-written signatures of my ancestors, file cabinet is full! It is addictive, and way more personal than on line stuff.
I recently took a trip to Fayette Ohio, where my fourth great grandfather was kind of a founding person. I love looking through the old records and newspapers. I hope to make a list and start traveling to places to visit the libraries and geneolgical centors or history museum or whatever they may have.
I'm also making sure I add all the sources. is a lifesaver for sourcing. I'd go crazy without access to all those records.

8 Answers

+15 votes
Best answer
Go for it! Me, it has taken me over forty YEARS, and I'm still not done. ;)
answered by Ros Haywood G2G6 Pilot (371k points)
selected by Kaylee Robinson
Ros, you know genealogy is the project that is never finished! :-)  Like government road projects.
Well, that's both encouraging and discouraging. I'm hoping it won't be 40 years, or that I can at least get over 90% in a smaller time frame.
Here's the thing, Allison. I really doesn't matter if you really make that goal. What you do is you start with your ancestors' children, then move on to their grandchildren, etc. With each step, it makes it easier to figure out that connection. So no matter how long it takes, you're always making gains toward your real goal, which is to help find out who a lot of those people are.

If you just focus on one pair of gt-gt-gt-gt grandparents at a time, you might get discouraged if there doesn't happen to be a lot of matches for the ones you happen to do first. Doing it "horizontally" instead, you're getting a lot of "bang for your buck".

Since you're apparently fairly young (my gt-gt-gt-gt grandparents fought in the American Revolution!) finding info should be relatively easy. You also have the advantage that you're probably not really tracking down all your 5th cousins (since they're living) - you're probably mostly tracking down the 3rd cousins of you grandparents (which should be a lot fewer people).

Another thing you might not have recognized it that you will be getting quite an education! Not only about history, geography, migrations, etc., but about Life itself - the Big Picture - in a way that few people ever see! To paraphrase the Great Philosopher, Ferris Bueller, don't always be in such a big hurry and take a look around. People in the past weren't so different from the people of today.

Even if you never fully realize this personal goal, you can nonetheless still come away with a lot.
+4 votes

I wonder if household size might be misleading - after all per the 2010 U.S. census average household size is 2.58 but Family size is 3.4 - and in the census families do not span multiple households, so then the average size of a family in household is higher which means households with families are larger. Which makes sense, as over a quarter of all households are non-family households of one person, and another quarter are married couples without children in the home.

answered by Thomas Fuller G2G5 (5.7k points)
There's so many factors, I had to just pick something to give me an estimate. I thought three people as an average was off, since I've always heard we had an average of 2.5 kids in America.
+9 votes
Whatever the numbers, it's very interesting to add siblings and children, following branches down and exploring the kinship networks - I'm researching some areas where people didn't move fat, and everybody married everybody's sister.

And doing it here at WikiTree you may find those connections you want. Or the other cousin will find yours a few years down the way. The good work is never wasted, even if we don't reach completion.
answered by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (218k points)
+10 votes
Excellent ! I wish everybody with autosomal DNA results would do this . It is where all those cousins are hiding... Pardon me if this is stating the obvious, but concentrate on the females and their marriages as this is where the surname changes every generation. Remember to check each unfamiliar name against the existing WikiTree profiles. Some of them are probably already out there. Good luck !
answered by Joe Farler G2G6 Mach 1 (18.3k points)

Couldn't agree more with Joe. Once I had my DNA tested, my appreciation for knowing who my 3rd and 4th cousins might be grew a LOT. That means emphasizing the marriages of daughters, etc.

With just one or two possible matches, and using triangulation to determine whether a match occurs on the X or Y chromosome of a pair, you can cut in half the paternal vs maternal lines that need to be explored further.

Yeah, I only have 3 known relationships for my matches right now.
I'm trying to get my Dad though the DNA process so I can find which side my matches are on. He's a bit dissappointed with the inital %'s that showed up and lost interest in all of it, even enough to give me access to get it on Gedmatch. Hopefully once it has a bit to settle he'll let me. (It's only been a couple days.
I've been able to help some cousins by sharing my wikitree  and my FF results with Gedmatch. It's like they aren't sure how they connect but we share DNA, then they find a common surname in my tree. Very nice!
+5 votes
Decades ago, there was a game show called "Name That Tune" where contestants would see if they could identify a tune with only a very few of the first notes of the tune to go on. So I've taken to calling our little game "Name That Relationship"! It's not as catchy a name, but when you can pull off small miracles it's pretty gratifying.

For example, I got a pretty good match with some young woman I had never heard of. I took a look at her posted tree, and it had only her parents. The mom is living, so her name was blanked out, but her dad had died, sadly. From her shared matches I could tell she was on my paternal grandfather's side, and I knew that one of my 2nd cousins had married a man with my match's father's surname. So, basically, just the father's surname on my match's tree was enough to tell me exactly how she was related. There were other details that confirmed it, like where her dad lived, his basic age, and maybe there was even some mention of his wife on findagrave, or something.

In a better example, I was able to identify a 3rd cousin, because I had worked out who all my dad's 2nd cousins are, on his father's side. The match had included his mom's name and vital stats on his tree - no further - and I knew just who she was, because she was one of those 2nd cousins of my father!

In perhaps the most extreme case, I have a guy who has the right shared matches to be on a great-grandmother's side of the tree, and he has a fairly unique name - one that I know belongs to a 3rd cousin of mine on that side. I think that's the only one where I "called it" based almost entirely on the name alone.

So, yeah, it's a ton of work but it really helps with that.
answered by Frank Stanley G2G6 Mach 1 (13.5k points)
+4 votes

It's a great idea. I've been working towards this with my lines, though in a few cases I first have to find the 4x-great-grandparents.

answered by Sharon Casteel G2G6 Mach 7 (78.9k points)
Yeah, I only have 47, but I've been struggleing with them for quite a while, so I decided to try another way.
+3 votes
That is a great goal! I've been doing something similar. I've been adding siblings for everyone in the first 30 in my tree and then their husbands/wives. I may add the descendants. We'll see.  A few of my third cousins are already on Wikitree so part of that problem was solved.  It is a fun project. Good luck!
answered by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (125k points)
+3 votes
As a first cut, you may want to focus on your paternal line 4th great-grandfather and his male descendants.  This is something that can be accomplished more readily since the scope is so much less and it has great value for yDNA research on your paternal line.

After that, you could do the same for your maternal line and use it for mtDNA research.

Next, after all those are done you may wish to pick other paternal and maternal lines for your cousins that are also in your line and get your cousins to do yDNA and mtDNA as it covers your line.

Finally, after all those are exhausted, going for the remaining where autosomal DNA comes into play.

By prioritizing it in this way, you can have demonstrable progress and completion of portions of the total work and prioritize the ones that have the greatest potential to help your research.
answered by William Foster G2G6 Mach 4 (48.2k points)
My paternal line 4th great grandfather had three daughters, one of whom I don't believe married, and my third great grandfather. Then my third great grandfather only had two sons, one of whom had four daughters, the other only had my great grandfather, then its a one son line to my dad. That's six ladies to try to find the decendants of, but wouldn't be yDNA relevant.

The ladies on my all maternal line are known all the way to colonial Massachusetts, but I haven't done all the way down with them. That's a little tougher with the surname changes, but I'm hoping to flesh out what I know.

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