English heralds visitations - how many profiles are actually on WT?

+6 votes
There was a recent thread about how likely it was that a pre-1700 ancestor was on Wikitree already, and I commented that my experience was that the chances are actually pretty low. I suggested grabbing random people out of English heralds visitations (which generally cover 1400-1664 ish) to see if they were on here, and so I actually tried it. I took two people out of three visitations, just by swishing the scroll bar and grabbing someone who had a decent number of progeny, so I'd be hitting someone who probably has descendants.

1 - John Echingham m. Anne Lewknor https://books.google.com/books?id=vPYMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA125#v=onepage&q&f=false

Is he on WT? Sort of - there's only one John Echingham on WT, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Echingham-48 - he's probably "loosely based on" the person in the visitation, but apparently Wikitree has him married to his daughter in law. I'll call this a 50% hit.

2 - Samwell Towers - https://books.google.com/books?id=vPYMAAAAIAAJ&printsec=titlepage#v=onepage&q&f=false


3- Thomas Armorer - https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101073398446?urlappend=%3Bseq=66


4- Mary (Stother) Fenwick - https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101073398446?urlappend=%3Bseq=32


5- Margaret (Cannon) Fenn - https://books.google.com/books?id=HPwUAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA270#v=onepage&f=false


6 - Edmund Beane - https://books.google.com/books?id=HPwUAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA58#v=onepage&q&f=false


So out of 6 tries, 5 misses and 1 hit with a significant mistake. I think this shows that when people say we've pretty much covered everybody already, they're way off base.
in The Tree House by Living Buckner G2G6 Mach 5 (56.3k points)
if you try devon and cornwall you will probably get some hits with my family

3 Answers

+7 votes
Your survey is not a real test of the problem as the population groups are completely different. You are taking random names out of a visitation.  You have no idea if these people even have living descendants to put them into wikitree. The problem is with people adding profiles to their traced out ancestry. You will get a very different result if you take random names from someone’s paper proven ancestry and look to see if they are already in  Wikitree.  None except the first one would you expect to ever find in someone’s personal gedcom upload.

The statement and the problem is also very dependent on the time and place we are talking about. If we are taking about Great Migration immigrants to New England and the first few generations, then yes the majority are already in wikitree. This is not true for other population groups and other time periods. However,what we are constantly battling is people uploading gedcoms which is made up primarily of these people.

Also, even if there are many pre-1500 people from the Visitations not in wikitree, do you really want them to be added by gedcom upload. I don’t think so.
by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (263k points)
Yes.  Sometimes if you look at the descendancy tree of an early aristo on Genealogics, the lines to the gateways are hard to pick out from the forest.

Look at the same descendancy chart on WikiTree, and the gateway lines are all we've got.

But those same lines are ones in the newbies' gedcoms.  Along with all the lines that aren't on Genealogics for some reason.
Solution is to persuade more serious English family historians to join us. That's more likely to happen if we get all those "crossing the Atlantic" problems sorted out.
I'm actually biasing this strongly in favor of people who are likely to be documented. Visitations mostly cover the gentry and their close relations. AS I said in the post, I also picked people who had at least a couple descendants listed. N=6 is obviously too small a sample to put a real number on, but it's enough to see that the coverage must be very thin. I keep having people tell me that everybody's on here already, but that's not even anywhere near reality.
I think you're mistaken in saying "If we are taking about Great Migration immigrants to New England and the first few generations, then yes the majority are already in wikitree."

What happens is people start "doing genealogy" by finding research that's already been done and connecting to it. Things have already gone awry right there, since the "connecting to" stage often involves a lot of hopeful assumptions. But once the connection is made, people "do research" by looking up more family trees. Since they start out from lines that have already been researched, they find that - surprise! - "their" line has already been researched. Meanwhile, their actual ancestors languish in obscurity. It's not that the majority of American colonial ancestors are in wikitree, but rather that the majority of late 19th and 20th century American genealogies have been copied into wikitree.

That should be obvious just from simple demographics. Take the name "John Smith". Smith has a frequency of around 1.5% in English contexts, and John was about 20% in the relevant period. There were around 250,000 people in English America in 1700, let's say half male, so there should be something like 400 John Smiths in America in 1700. I see about 10 John Smiths total on Wikitree who could have been alive in 1700, and probably only half of those were in America (hard to tell with some because of the sketchy documentation). Let's say we don't care about people who didn't leave descendants and consider that wikitree is mostly concerned with those who did. If we say only about 1/4 of those left descendants (a fairly typical figure), then Wikitree should have around 100 John Smiths in America, but it actually only has 5.
I agree, wikitree represents famous and well researched "gateway" ancestors well, but it's not even at 10% of American colonial ancestors ca. 1700. Even if my estimates are off by a lot, Wikitree is obviously an order of magnitude away from having the density of coverage that you think it does.
+8 votes
It depends very much on time and place. When I first joined I tested by searching for the furthest back on each of my ancestral lines. None of them were on here. The majority of them still have nobody else looking at the same ancestor.
by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (680k points)

That's exactly my experience too. I come at this from a 1-name study kind of perspective, focusing on Buckners. The thing with the Buckners is that there's a well known genealogy called the Buckners of Virginia (1907). Every Buckner starts out assuming that this book is about their ancestors, and indeed most Buckners in America did get here via Virginia, so when people hit that infamous brick wall, they always seem to find a place to hook up to that. It's usually John and Sarah Buckner of Caroline Co. VA, who by my last count had around 25-30 children.

Alas, when YDNA testing came along, the Buckner world was shocked to discover that, oh, maybe like 5% of American Buckners actually belong to this line. This made me very curious. I had worked my own line back and knew that I was from a different immigrant already, so I started working the lines in our DNA group. Eventually, I managed to find 5 different colonial immigrant lines (plus a half dozen later ones), of which 4 had been completely ignored for the past 100 years, simply because everybody assumed they were descended from this "gateway" ancestor in Buckners of Virginia. I'm pretty sure this is not a unique circumstance.

+7 votes

The Visitations did not cover the ordinary folk - like mine - the serfs, villeins, washerwomen, that sort of folk.  So choosing people from the Visitations makes for a skewed start.

Having said that, a lot of mine weren't on WT, purely because they were ordinary folk.  But they're my ordinary folk, and I love 'em.

by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
Absolutely - this is a sample of people who are most likely to have been found already. The hit rate for the lower classes must be even lower, which i can say is my experience with them.

Totally agree Ros, the farthest I can get back is around 1600 on lines with good parish records! Before this time records become sparse for us farmers sad

All my ancestors I have traced this far in Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Derbyshire originate from farming families; and although I’m sure my 10x GG has 100’s of descendants I have not met anyone researching them yet and none of my pre 1700 profiles were on wikitree before I got here :-)

I agree, most people don't appear in the visitations. Going back to the middle ages, those covered by Magna Carta were a minority, the rest were serfs. Wikitree, as set up, will never be able to include these ancestors as the documentary links from one generation to another  are missing (not easily found)

Personally, I ' ve only found one  19th C link on wikitree to my family and one a century earlier to my  husbands ancestor's. ( have no problems with duplicates)

As we go back further with ' ordinary folk'  it isn't always possible to link one generation exactly to another. Yet, with research,  using records, mostly not online, it is sometimes possible to show families living and working the same fields for centuries.

 If John moved to a nearby town, it will be impossible to link him to the village.

So to go back to the original 'question' If many of those in visitations are missing, think how many  more ordinary familes are absent.

I look both ways on this one, probably because I am following all my undistinguished ancestors as far back as I can manage, and many of them were in East Yorkshire where a lot of Parish Registers go back before 1700, and quite a few ancestors had rare surnames.   By 1819 I can only trace about half of theoretically about fifty living tops of the tree, but about 10 of that 25 are landowners (often just a few acres but a couple with more than 500 acres).  I am an experienced historian, not only a family historian, so I am reasonably certain that I have not slipped into well trodden paths.

What does this mean?  Obviously it would be foolish to assume that the ancestors I lost trace of were equally well-to-do.  But it was obvious that rich families had more living descendants, and that status rapidly disappeared for the youngest son of a youngest son.  An extreme case in the collateral went from an Earl with many thousands of acres to an unemployed ag lab in a council house in three generations. So I suspect that most of us have ancestors in the Heraldic Visitations, but we don't know which lines will lead there.

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