We share ancestors with every one of our DNA matches. Sometimes, we can identify the exact shared ancestor(s) without much effort. Other times, we need to put in more time and energy to discover the ancestral connection. A lot of our time working with our DNA matches involves building family trees or seeing where a previously made family tree intersects with ours.
Family tree building by researching ancestors back in time is the primary effort made by amateur, intermediate, and advanced genealogists. We use DNA information in addition to documentary research to build family trees. Tracing the ancestors shared with DNA matches sometimes gives fantastic hints about where to search and who to find since some DNA matches have more family history information than we do.
Typically, we build trees back in time to the most recent common ancestor(s) (MRCA). But sometimes, we need to build family trees forward in time. This practice is frequently called descendancy research.
Tracing the descendants of ancestors is important for the following scenarios:
– When you need to identify a living person who could take a DNA test to confirm a hypothesized family connection.
– Unknown parentage research involves identifying common ancestors then tracing them forward in time to identify biological parent candidates who were in the same location at the same time to conceive a child.
– Tracing descendants can identify living family members who were separated due to situations such as immigration, war, or other circumstances.
– Tracing heirs of estates, money, land, etc.
There are many tools available to help with descendancy research. Records that we typically use to trace ancestors can also be used to find descendants. Search for records at FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, Fold3.com, the Library of Congress, state archives, historical societies, churches, libraries, homes, and other locations for the following records.
Census records give at least the name of the head of household, and after 1850 in the United States, the names of each person living in a household are listed. Identify an ancestor in a census, then trace forward in time to the next census, the next, etc. Track names, ages, and other information to see how ancestral families grew, then separated into new families if there were marriages or a person left home to live on their own.
City directories are another kind of census. Family members may be traced backward and forward in time through entries in city directories. Build a chart using city directory information to establish approximate dates the person lived in a location. This information can give clues about other records to search.
Vital records, such as birth, marriage, and death records, give dates and locations where key life events occurred. These records may reveal family member’s names and relationships. Parents may be named in these records. The informant on a birth, marriage, or death record may be a parent, sibling, or child.
Birth records may identify a person’s parents; then, search for parents’ names to identify additional children in the family. A mystery DNA match may descend from a previously unknown child of your shared ancestors.
Church records often go back further in time than government civil records. If you can identify the religious denomination of an ancestor, check church records in the location and time they lived. As many ancestors were not as mobile as we are today, generations may have lived in the same place and attended the same church or other churches in the same area. Look in these records for the births of other children of an ancestor. The Sponsors, Godparents, or witnesses of births or marriages may also be related, and researching them can help establish family connections and inspire new avenues of research.
Probate Records– contain wills and other documents that name descendants. Probate records are typically located in county courthouses or archives. FamilySearch and other organizations have microfilmed some probate records. Search the FamilySearch Catalog for the subject probate and the location of the ancestor.
Newspapers – more and more historical newspapers are becoming available. Articles, obituaries, or news notices may give clues about individuals and family units that can help trace people forward in time. Some resources are Chronicling America, part of the Library of Congress, Newspapers.com, local libraries and historical societies, and other archives.
Military records – some list next of kin, e.g., war pension files initiated by surviving spouses of soldiers. Some online resources are FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, Fold3.com, and the National Archives.
Personal papers, journals, diaries, letters, etc.– If you are fortunate to locate these in your home or a relative’s home, or a manuscript collection, you may have found a goldmine of family members and information mentioning their relationships.
Living Relatives – family members may know more about distant family members than you think. They may have memories of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins visiting from out of town when they were children. They may share a small tidbit of information that can open a new avenue of research.
This list is not exhaustive, but it can give you a good start on where to look to trace the descendants of your or your client’s ancestors. Remember that all of the tools used in building family trees of your ancestors equally apply to their descendants. Happy sleuthing!