Question of the Week: What is your best genealogy research experience?

+10 votes

Please tell us about your best genealogy research experience.

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
Yesterday, on, I discovered that Joan of Ark is my 16th Great Aunt.
I discovered that my direct ancestors are originally from Normandy in France starting with Rollo the viking the first Duke of Normandy and then following along the Plantagenet line through King King Edward I II and III through the Henrys and then onto many Dukes, Earls Barons, Knights, bishops, deacons etc I discovered by doing a DNA test that I have 10 ethenticities including Irish, Scottish, English , italian, Baltic and Easten European. The family was present in Portugal, Spain, France Flanders (old Belgium) Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cheqoslovakia, Hungary and Kiev. I suppose that is because all the monarchs kind of kept the gene pool within their class and families and also married for treaties and to keep peace between other countries. I showed my aunt a picture of William the Conquerer´s wife Matilda of Flanders and she was shocked at how similar she looked and she is just as short as she was  too!
How cool ! ~ We must then be distantly related, as Rollo was my 34th great grandfather (I have lots of ancestors from Normandy).... and I remember several relatives that supported Joan of Ark (like : John II, Count of Perche & Duke of Alencon / "the fair duke", 1409-1476, my 16th great grandfather ... not sure if I'm directly related to her).

22 Answers

+14 votes

This is hard because there has been so many great experiences with family and friends, but I will pick this one because I have always loved museums. I found that my 8th great grandfather, Peter Blinn, was a cabinetmaker, and there is a chest by him in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. This is a photo of me admiring it. I never would have had this great experience without doing genealogy. 

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (263k points)
+9 votes
That's actually easy for me. When I first started, I did what many amateur genealogists do - start asking family. My family was spread out, didn't talk to each other a lot about such things, and so it was a bit of an uphill battle. Not that I didn't make progress, but that large breakthroughs and suddenly stumbling across that giant cache of great-grandma's ancient records never happened.

Then I hit across studying names, and it was pretty clear that Fulkerson appeared to be Germanic in nature, so naturally I've got a German heritage. While I didn't quite buy the lederhosen, I was pretty set on finding where in Germany I was from and looked forward to that day. I did take German in High School as a result and thought I had found the key to unlocking my heritage.

Then I discovered sourcing. And websites. And real genealogical family contacts. And even found a book on my family, which made me toss most of my previous theories out the door. The first was that my family was well-researched. The second was that those in my family line were very familiar with my heritage, and it was not German, but Norwegian. And then it hit me that I have websites devoted to my family and that they're fairly well researched as well. So stumbling across first the book on my family, then the website, followed by chasing the related tree on Family Search and now on WikiTree has all combined to be one of the best experiences overall. Great sequence of events that has led me to where I am today.
by Scott Fulkerson G2G6 Pilot (918k points)
Yes, finding your family being well researched and finding useful websites is making genealogy much easier today in some respects. I started by accidentally finding an "archived" copy of a website from 15 years ago that had disappeared. The person who created it had extensively researched my county here in Nova Scotia and I found 5,500 of my relatives there (unfortunately no sources). From there, I've managed to get up to 10,400 by today (in 3 years) - half of them researched in detail so far. Having local old vital statistics and census records available online is a big help too! And a distant 5th cousin's database resource - he's been doing this for 25 years.
+8 votes
I recently straightened a conflict from the Civil War. Family tradition said that Moses Batt (a distant cousin) of 1840 died in the Andersonville prison. But things just didn't fit together until I found a cousin of his who fit the profile (b. before 1830) and the first Moses died in the Union prison in Delaware. Now all of those Civil War papers can be filed under the right man -- but how do I get all of those erroneous websites corrected?
I shouldn't bother. Just keep working to make Wikitree somewhere everyone wants to be. Problem solved.
I sympathize with you!  Misconceptions and misperceptions are hard to erase.  You just do what you can and hope the right word gets out there.  Don't give up!
+11 votes
If it is a research experience it has to be the day I went to try and find a bastardy record for my ancestor 2 x gt grandfather Stephen Buckle. I knew from his christening that he was illegitimate. I did not find his record but what I found was so much better.

I found a settlement examination for his mother which led to his grandmother being examined. I discovered out his grandfather had bigamously married his grandmother in Jersey in the Channel Islands. His grandmother was from the town where the examination was held and I found her christening and parents names.

Proof that you need to visit the local archive if you can get there.
by Hilary Gadsby G2G6 Pilot (109k points)
Too bad so many of us are so far away from those relevant archives.
+13 votes
I know you're going to be amazed by my answer - my best research experience was finding WikiTree!  It has to count as the result of research because I searched for genealogy websites and checked them all out before making my selection.

Members at WikiTree first educated me about what genealogy is - all the activities that comprise it.  Then they showed me where and how to do research and how to work on profiles.  It was members here who made the breakthroughs to finding my family - when I joined, the only ancestors I knew anything about were parents, 2 grandmothers, and 1 great grandmother.  I now have profiles here for over 1,000 family members.  Members have also become friends, offering much needed support, genealogical and otherwise, at times when I most needed a sympathetic shoulder.

Although I have had broken some really good brickwalls and have managed to sort out a lot of confused messes of people to organize the nuclear family groups, and have discovered a few second cousins (with whom I since bonded), none of this would have been possible without that first research experience of finding WikiTree!
by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (779k points)

And this is why I always read your answers!   Not just technical expertise but spot on.
+8 votes

Hard to pick a single experience - overall I have to say it is finding out so many fascinating bits of information about a lot of extended family members that I never knew were related. But to pick a few specific ones, first, finding that my Great Grandfather James Amiel Corkum was a ship owner (fishing schooners) was the one closest to me. Our family never discussed any family history (probably they didn't know much beyond the closest relatives). And second, finding some noteworthy living people. An Ottawa scientist, Paul Corkum's name was submitted for a Nobel prize in 2015. He didn't get it but he's the "star" in my family tree. And then finding two Canadian country music stars from the 1970's was another high point (since I also have their record albums from back then having no idea they were related). My "special" relatives are noted on my web site.

[Edit - Duh, totally forgot the best one. I found an original land grant document telling me exactly where my Great (x5) Grandfather Wilhelm Gorkum lived as one of the first settlers in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1753 (he came from Germany). Now if I could only figure out how we ended up in a different part of the county 3 generations later!]

by Roderick Corkum G2G5 (5.7k points)
edited by Roderick Corkum
+8 votes
I've had a few of those; several years ago (around maybe 2012 or 2013?) I saw something from the Oxford University Press on Twitter; a entry from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, on one Lording Barry, whose biographical description was "playwright and pirate". I thought this sounded kind of interesting, so I went and looked to see what came up in Google Books....where I discovered that the identity of this Lording Barry had apparently been something of a mystery to literary scholars for several centuries (it was apparently thought that "Lording" was some sort of title, and that he was the bastard son of a Lord Barry). I came across some excerpts from a privately printed monograph called "Lording Barry, Poet and Pirate" published in 1938 by a philologist and historian named Cecil L'Estrange Ewen. This being Google Books, the parts available for preview were scant, but there was enough there for me to struck by the mention of a familiar name: Edmund Scarburgh, of the parish of St Martin's in the Fields, Westminster (who is my 11th great-grandfather).So I hunted down a copy of this monograph from a rare bookseller, and discovered that it named Lording Barry's niece (and the executrix of his will) Hannah Smith as wife of Edmund Scarburgh (American genealogical researchers for over a century had assumed that she was "Hannah Butler", based on nothing more than the fact that Edmund Scarburgh II claimed a headright for transporting one "Robert Butler"). Getting a copy of the will of Hannah Smith's father Edmund (which named "daughter Anna Scarbrough" and "grandson Charles Scarbrough") confirmed what Ewen had written in his monograph on Lording a random interesting thing on Twitter ended up leading me to a significant genealogical discovery.
by C Handy G2G6 Mach 8 (89.2k points)
edited by C Handy
+7 votes
On an East Coast trip my husband and I called “the Ancestry Trail,” I was visiting a cemetery in New Haven, CT, about to give up, when I found the graves of my GGGM, Maria Miller Smith, and GGGGM, Pamelia Richards Smith, two widowed women who, without the benefit of menfolk, together raised Maria’s two young daughters during the tumultuous years surrounding the Civil War. Nestled together side by side, as they had lived their lives, their identical grave markers named their husbands, Charles Smith and Charles H Smith, father and son, the latter identified as having served as a Sergeant in Connecticut’s 20th Volunteer Regiment during the war. It was my first clue as to the male parentage in this line of my ancestry, and from there, I set about to find out how, when, and where the father of my GGM, Amelia Richards Smith Hotchkiss, had died.

I began by researching the Connecticut 20th Vol and learned that after being bivouacked outside of Washington, DC, to protect the capitol from the encroaching armies of General Lee in Virginia, the restless regiment was finally called to action in some of the bloodiest battles in Civil War history, including Chancellorsville—a devastating defeat for the Union owing to botched leadership that also featured the death of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson following “friendly fire”—and a few weeks later, Gettysburg. I searched and searched, but I was unable to find out anything about my ancestor’s death.

Some months later, while resuming my research of the 20th Vol, I stumbled upon an out-of-print book on the history of the regiment that featured a first-hand account by a soldier who had survived Chancellorsville, and then in an appendix, a list of the men who had been injured or killed. And there, on the page under Infantry Company E, was the name Charles H Smith, killed in action at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. He was 27 years old. I wept in gratitude for this discovery of his service, and of the sacrifice of his mother, his 22-year-old wife, and his two little girls, Mary, age 4, and Amelia, age 3. I could not believe how deep I had to go to find this piece of their story, and how fortunate I was to come across an out-of-print book online, and to read it to the very end, where the information I had sought was in an appendix.

The internet, God’s gift to genealogists.
Very meaningful treasure!
+7 votes

Best in impact? I found my GGGrandmother's village and visited there. It was a brick wall.  Anna Lenz spoke German, the US census said birthplace: Germany but it turns out she was born in Bohemia, a kingdom in Austria that is today's Czechia.  Many neighbors in Wisconsin were also German Bohemians and with lots of help from genealogists in Europe, we found her records and village.  It's so small there is no B&B, so a kind woman put me up in her daughter's room for the night. When that brick wall tumbled, other things started to make sense like family recipes and children's marriages.  I have a warm spot in my heart for her because it was hard work to find her place in the world.

by Robin Rainford G2G6 Mach 1 (13.3k points)
+7 votes

My best research experience has been the process of ‘discovering’ my paternal grandfather, Harold Chester Teeter [Teeter-1026]. Harold passed away at the age of 53 in 1952, six years before I was born. My family shared very little information about him. The beginnings of my genealogy research happened sometime around 2004 with my intense curiosity of Harold. My first find was a newspaper clipping found in rootsweb records…HAROLD CHESTER TEETER-Funeral services for Harold C. TEETER of Jacksonville, NY who died Jan. 18, 1952, were held at 3pm Tuesday in the Wagner Funeral Home, 431 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY with the Rev. Floyd Morris of Poplar Ridge officiating. Bearers, all past captains of Tornado Hook & Ladder Company 3, were George VAN EPPS, Leland CRAWFORD, Robert S. ROBINSON, Herbert SPENCER, Harold E. WILCOX, and Gordon READ. Burial was in North Lansing Cemetery.

My best Harold discovery was a memorable visit to The History Center, in Ithaca, NY a couple years ago. There are box-loads of documentation for Tornado Hook & Ladder Company 3 and Harold’s imprint is strong there in the records. I didn’t have my camera with me that day to take photos of his handwriting, etc, and I haven’t gone back to visit the archives. I'd like to go back and find more photos of him and take photos of some of his correspondence. My visit is past-due since The History Center is a block away from the building I work in. My Grandpa Teeter is loved and remembered by me, even though I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally.

I’ve also enjoyed ‘finding’ Harold’s mother Harriette Daisy Howell Teeter [Howell-9425] and discovering that Daisy is my sister Luanne’s [Teeter-1040] ancestral look-alike. That particular Howell gene runs strong in Luanne, her daughter, and grandson—they all have Daisy’s beautiful brown eyes, dark brown hair, and olive-toned skin. When it was mentioned during our teen years that Luanne looked ‘different’ from the rest of her siblings, my grandmother said ‘Luanne looks like her great grandmother, Harold’s mother.’ I had one of those WOW moments when I discovered Daisy’s photo on, 50 or so years after Grandma’s comment.

by Barbara Bennett G2G1 (1.1k points)
+9 votes

As I was researching my mom's Jackson family I discovered that her great-grandfather had been a well-respected freed slave in Virginia.  This discovery lead to finding out that most of the early family members had been buried in a family cemetery on their own farmland.  Then it happened that I was able to find a whole bunch of cousins that I never knew existed!  We began communicating and I filled them in about the family tree.  I let them know that in looking for the family cemetery online I learned that it was written about  in an article: 

For a year or so I communicated with some of the Virginia Jacksons (I'm in New Hampshire), letting them know where our patriarch and family were buried.  It took some doing, but they finally found it, nearby where they lived.  It was totally neglected, as the online article suggested.  They took it upon themselves to clean up the family cemetery and to try to identify where each person had been buried.  But, unmarked field stones had been used for grave markers, so it was not to be.  Family pride, however, took over and they purchased and had installed a beautiful granite marker dedicating the grounds to our common patriarch.

All of this happened because I wanted to know more about my mother's family.  This is my great-great-grandfather: Jeremiah Jackson, Sr.  I hope you will visit his profile page.

by Candyce Fulford G2G6 Mach 1 (10.3k points)
Wow, Candyce!  What an amazing story!  And so great that your work resulted in a "resurrection" and permanent memorial of your family's history.
Yes, Anneliese, it IS amazing, and it's a story I often cling to when I get genealogically worn out.  My spirits are renewed.  Thank you for taking the time to read.
+7 votes
My best experience in genealogy happened when I had my DNA results. Before I opened my results from FamilyTree my curser landed on an unknown Murray cousin's email and found that his great-grandfather was my grandfather's brother. Family Finder really worked. Now I know two new cousins and we have shared letters from another brother about family lore and data.

by Jean Heuer G2G2 (2.8k points)
+8 votes

Discovering I'm a direct descendant (9x gr gr daughter) of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett, a niece and daughter-in-law of Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony and about whom an excellent historical romance has been written by Anya Seton, The Winthrop Woman (1908, repub 1958).

by Patricia Hickin G2G6 Mach 8 (84.8k points)
+6 votes
Like so many others, it is hard to pinpoint the best experience among so many good ones, but when I start a profile and others add to it, especially if it was something easy for the others but hard for me, I am grateful to my fellow genealogists. This is the best experience. For example, C. Mackinnon added a picture of an original diving helmet from a museum in England to the profile of Charles Anthony Deane, inventor of diving apparatus. I also have a picture of it but it was in a frame and would have been a bother to take it out of the frame, photograph it, and post it. C. posted the picture for me so I did not have to disturb the framed picture on the wall.
by Marion Ceruti G2G6 Mach 6 (61.9k points)
+5 votes

So many, yet my best has to be the response I received from a wonderful person who worked at a registry office in Cattaraugus County, NY. I had traveled to Winona, MN, Madison, WI and elsewhere tracking my dad's paternal line. I kept getting stuck on two Jeduthan Baldwins, but there birth years were totally off. I was just learning about doing genealogical research and there were NO computers. I found a clue in one of my searches at the U of Wisconsin, Madison library regarding a Jeduthan Baldwin coming from NY. I first called (a land line phone! No cell phones in those days) Cattaraugus County and was given the name and address of the historian, Ethel Carnes. I sent a letter describing what I had already found and that I was stuck on two Jeduthan Baldwins but with different birth dates and added a bit of money to cover any mailing costs. My BEST occurred a few weeks later when Ethel wrote back on 9 May 1978 telling me that there were two Jeduthans! Father and son! She made the link that went from WI to MN to NY to VT (and ultimately to MA). She sent a copy of Jeduthan Baldwin's 2-page probate record ( that included mention of his son, Jeduthan Green Baldwin who, at the time was in Green Lake, WI headed for MN. For me, this was the true basis for genealogy research!

by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (329k points)
+6 votes
My best genealogy experience has to be my first.  I had two grandmothers who cared about their family history.  They shared with me all their collected records (all obtained in the old days when there were typewritten carbon copies, not simple photocopies, let alone the internet).  They both took care to write the names on the backs of all the old family photos, especially my mother's mother (who had a much larger collection).

I feel grateful to them every day, and often regret that I was too young to think to ask them for more information, or to record their stories as I did my mother's, before they died.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (302k points)
+6 votes
Finding a birth certificate of a previously unknown and unacknowledged son of my great-grandparents, born four months after their Hudson, Massachusetts, wedding in Washington, D. C., where they had no known connections. I had no clue that this child existed and found him by accident - I happened across the birth record (and there is no doubt that it was my great-grandparents' child, the full names of both parents match, as do their birth locations) on a FamilySearch database while I was actually trying to find a death record for my great-grandmother.

My great-grandmother was an extremely rigid moralist who would brook neither of her acknowledged children nor any of her grandchildren deviating from the straight and narrow Methodist path to correct living and thus salvation. (So I'm told, she died before I was born.)  I'm sure she would be horrified to know that her great-grandson has uncovered her secret. I only wish I had found this out while my mother was still living - she was terrified of her grandmother and would have found this to be a major hoot.

I don't know whether my grandmother ever knew that she had an 11-month-older brother. She left extensive family history notes that make no mention of it, but she was very capable of hushing it up if she did know. The notes she left are very reliable - I've confirmed almost everything she said through other records - with the exception of the date of her grandfather's first marriage, which she moved back by a year, I'm convinced to mask the fact that his first child was born too soon.

The name of my great-grandparent's child does not appear in the birth record, and I assumed he had either died shortly after birth or been anonymously adopted. But then I found his descendants through Ancestry DNA, and through them discovered that the love child grew up with the same last name as his birth parents and lived to the ripe old age of 85. I've been unable to find him in the census until he was a married adult, so I don't know who raised him, or where, or how he came to bear the family name.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 4 (49.6k points)
+6 votes

There are certainly several..... but perhaps  discovering the ancestors of my GG Grandfather  Thomas Jefferson Hamilton has the most merit.  He served in the 4th Cav Union Army during the Civil War, though he lived in NW Arkansas.   There was a large pocket in Union sympathizers were he lived,  and their families paid dearly by attacks from the Confederates; which included burning and looting homesteads and murdering the old men and boys left at home.    

For years,  I considered TJ Hamilton a brick wall.  But I noticed an tree posted that my family line was  related to the Sherrell family.    When I reviewed the military documents I had,  it was in plain sight.   A Sherrell family member was receiving benefits for the orphan children of Thomas Jefferson Hamilton   (years earlier I thought they were just neighbors who took in the boys for benefits).... however, this beneficiary was their uncle.   From there,  not only did I find the parents of Thomas Jefferson Hamilton.... but I found  the grave of a 4 great grandfather only a mile  (as the crows fly) from the grave of Thomas Jefferson Hamilton.  The grave was actually marked!!!   (A great plus for those times in Arkansas.)

One additional note:    Until I started my family research,  my family thought we were Confederates.   My father died believing this.   Shortly after I was married  (1978),  my husband from Kansas went to a family cemetery in Arkansas with my grandmother and I.  He noticed all the confederate headstones and was surprised.   (TOO LATE..... do more research before you marry!!)..... However,  the surprise was on me,  we have many more Union soldiers in our family line than confederate.

by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (362k points)
edited by Peggy McReynolds
+7 votes
Finding my husband’s grandfather. My mother in law had always been cagey about the identity of her father. All I ever learned was that she didn’t remember him or even his name as he had been killed in WW1. I assumed it was a tale to cover her illegitimacy as she had been born in 1913. Her half-sisters in England had no idea either when I asked them in order to fill in her death certificate. About 10 years ago, I found her mother’s first marriage, then using that name, checked the military files. They mentioned that some of his pay was to support my mother in law, then about a year old. Her parents had married early in 1916; her father was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme six months later. My mother in law would have been two and a half. I’m so sad that I couldn’t share her extended family with her. She probably went to primary school with a niece of the same age, also called Elsie.
by Fiona McMichael G2G6 Pilot (151k points)
+5 votes
My best research experience has to be the day I broke through the brick wall of my maternal first cousin's profile manager (who as it turns out is his daughter, who was afraid of spammers and hackers) and didn't answer my messages at all for a year.

Through public family trees and Wikitreer's suggestions, I got through, I used his family tree also, and now have a mother, who unfortunately past away in 2002, a maternal half brother and an extended maternal family back to my 6th great grandparents.

It just goes to show, the old saying "Improvise, Adapt and Overcome", was never more true. After 69 years of wondering who I was and where I came from, the result of the experience (journey) and the satisfaction of succeeding makes it all worth while.

As always thank you to all the  Wikitreers.

by James Brooks G2G6 Pilot (265k points)
edited by James Brooks

Related questions

+10 votes
13 answers
+29 votes
39 answers
+12 votes
29 answers
+23 votes
53 answers

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright