My first attempt at a title for this post included a very naughty word: “My.” You see, this is the biggest obstacle when adding info to the Family Search Family Tree. It is one tree, and we are all a part of its branches – transforming “my tree” to “our tree”. I admit that this concept scared me to my core – and honestly, after using it for five years now, it can still send me into a hyperventilating tailspin when fellow gardeners start pruning or reshaping one of the family branches. But I’ve finally come to terms with this concept, and find that I keep going back to it – drawing me like a video game, of sorts – which can sometimes feel more like whack-a-mole.
After half of a decade, here’s what I’ve learned and why I feel those of us with advanced genealogical skills should be embracing this “one world tree” concept.
My initial purpose in joining this tree:
I first started dabbling with this tree because it was new, and I do love playing with new genealogy toys. As the trees were already connected to Family Search records, I thought it might be a nice genealogy sandbox. I will also be honest about the initial draw – knowing that Family Search servers and the granite mountain would be preserving the information added to the tree, I viewed this as a tool of genealogy insurance. If everything went kaboom tomorrow, including my house and my gedcom, perhaps this remnant would remain?
But then again, how would it remain? After 5 more years, after 10 years, 20 years from now – what would my information look like? I know this is the most alarming part of a one world tree concept. My guilty secret is that I still maintain a personal tree at home sourced with my research – But as the FS tree grows, and implements easy to access tools, I find myself grabbing the FS tree app on my phone when I want to show something to a family member, or just refresh my memory as to a particular branch. So, it’s like a research worm….curling its way into my permanent genealogical consciousness.
For all Intents and Purposes:
My initial, self-imposed limitations, allowed the maintenance of only a few generations. I was surprised to find that my great grandparents were not in this tree, with very limited information about the generations immediately past them. So, I figured it was my duty to fill in some of the research I already had on hand, as well as share some of the older photographs I had of the family – only one or two for identification – I wasn’t going to go crazy with this tree, nor add the whole kit and kaboodle of family gems – those are going into a book someday – and sent to libraries to meet my own comfort level of permanence.
First word of caution with a tip: I would never have guessed in a million years that someone would try to remove or move one of the images that I had added – but sure enough, the shocking moment happened when I got the notification that someone had removed and moved a photo that I had uploaded to my ancestor! I went racing to the page, only to discover that everything was fine – when you get a notification that someone has changed something on your tree – DO NOT rush over and act in furry or haste! Be careful, and look closely at the changes, because FS notifies you for ANY changes to the ancestor profiles you choose to put on your watch list – which includes movements forward and backward.
To illustrate – back to the photo image switch – the person who had removed the image, only removed the attachment of the photo – attributing it to someone else. Sounds horrifying, no? But when I looked closely, the photo was repeated in the list of changes, among others that reversed some of the previous actions. Upon inspection, clearly someone was trying to attach a child, and remove a duplicate couple, and since that process has quite a learning curve, the person was trying to correct the slip that had been made when he/she detached or deleted the wrong person!
In the end, things were just fine, but it made me realize that I needed to spend some extra time and watermark the ancestral photos that were held in my personal collection. Once you upload a photo, people can move them around, but from now on, I will add a watermark that identifies the ancestor, as well as the current owner of the original (maybe not my full name, but initials and surname, or some such configuration – and maybe not a label that can be trimmed off.) Also, add a note as you upload to go with the photo – listing you as the owner, or where you got the copy. It’s the least we can do as an attempt to keep the right photo with the right person.
Plus, I cannot emphasize this enough – take time to learn the ins and outs of the merging, deleting, and detaching processes – for all of our sakes – PLEASE!!! There are loads of YouTube videos out there to help (including a whole channel by Family Search!) – just be sure to watch the most current editions as the specific instructions have changed a bit – we all need to make sure we are doing it right, so we don’t contribute to the problem!
Spring Cleaning/Pruning is a MUST:
I admit that the duplicate entries made me shake my head – it was like Ancestry zombie tree clones all over again, but with even worse variations based on crazy transcriptions in the system (I’ll get to that in a minute) or just terrible “research” – and it was driving me crazy because I would run into this issue quite a bit – as would others working on some of the same lines. Then it finally hit me – the “Possible Duplicates” link is your friend! I was running into duplicates as I attached new sources, added new children, parents, or a new spouse, and it was so confusing to detach or attach existing folk. You can REALLY help the tree a lot if you periodically go in to prune off or merge existing duplicates. By doing this proactively, you help to ensure that the tree grows as a tree and not a bush!
You might be thinking: “Hey – that’s no problem as I’ve already hit that wall and fixed it – removing/merging all my duplicates”: Ummmm, not so fast. The reason you need to periodically go through and prune/merge duplicates is because new ones can show up as new records are added to FS. I recently discovered a duplicate that I was not aware of previously. It came up as I was working on a German couple that had no duplicates. This is a really unique surname and I had been the only one working on this branch – until a new record came up as a hint from FS – I eagerly went to attach the record to my couple, and found it was already attached to a couple whose names were similar, yet not identical – resembling something of a phonetic perversion that was very odd – seemingly related to how the record was transcribed. I clicked on them to learn more about this couple and their lineage – but I quickly hit a dead end. When I clicked one of their individual profiles, and then hit “tree” I found that there was no one attached to them at all – they were floaters with no connections. So, I looked at their history, to identify the original creator, and it was FS Admin! I’m assuming this is a function of newly added records – they were putting a family unit in the tree section as a new record was made available in order to find the family connections (this was a baptism identifying a family unit) – not sure if this was made by a bot of sorts (computer generated), or a real person, but it made me confident in my next changes.
I then headed back to my couple to remove these duplicates prior to attaching that newly found record. CAUTION: When I went back to my couple, and clicked on “Possible Duplicates” that phantom floating couple did NOT appear in the list. Sigh – so I had to go all the way back to the record, take note of the individual profile numbers, and search for the duplicates that way – it worked, but what rigmarole! BTW, so what did I type into the box that requires an explanation for a deletion? Verbatim: “This couple appears to be a FS added couple based on one document with no known family connections – I am that family, and I’m welcoming them home as they are already on my tree.”
With the potential for many other floating family units to appear out there over time – you may want to make your life easier and check the individual lines in your branch of the tree for new duplicate possibilities – in other words, keep the shears handy for spot check pruning.
With all of the above – why should I invest my time and resources into this Family Tree?
For a few reasons:
It’s an open tree that people can see, use, and share with no membership needed. I can easily share this with my family, and not worry about what might be locked later if someone doesn’t pay a membership. (I’m talking about down the road – not current viewable Ancestry Trees.)
As much as my family’s involvement might result in us getting mad over the changes – I’m confident the collaboration will be great in the end (because I KNOW they have some family info that I don’t – and their input will help build a more complete ancestor story) – plus, I think we all live far enough apart that murder will not be a viable option for dispute resolution – just a genealogy joke, folks!
With the new tools that FS is implementing for story/memory collection – this could soon evolve into a very dynamic place for preserving and sharing the family story.
One of the major draws for me is that easy integration with the FS documents – those sources get pulled in and attached with a few clicks, and it makes sourcing information like a video game – fun, serves the purpose, and doesn’t strain my eyes as I make sure there is a comma or period in the correct places – but I’m still careful to make sure it belongs to the right people – after all, a hint is not a given match.
And BTW, I have played with WikiTree as an alternative, but the screen layout just never stuck with me – plus, the ease of connecting actual records in FS hooked me like a duck on a junebug.
How Advanced Genealogists can make this a better tree – Our Responsibility:
Lately, I’ve heard genealogists of varying degrees of experience throw their hands up and reject the one world tree concept. Don’t get me wrong – if I had a dime for every time I got mad and said “That’s it! I’m done! I’ve had it with this thing – If everyone can come in and just changes my work, what is the point??!!!” I’d be a wealthy woman.
But fundamentally, I think we’re getting it a bit wrong. If most genealogists of significant caliber abandon this format, you know who builds the one world tree? Potentially, those who lack the necessary skills to create a valid tree – and yet this tree is preserved and lasts for many generations – Is that really what we want? If we don’t get into the sandbox with the other kids, who know what will be built with the genealogy blocks? And just to be clear, while we abandon the format and stick to our private trees only, this community tree is taking shape and continuing to grow without our input and while we look the other way.
I have also come to the realization that more is more where these trees are concerned. The more information you feed into an ancestor profile: life sketch, memories, etc. – the more solid the profile becomes. And when you change something, put in a good reason, don’t skimp on the reasons – use them as teaching tools for those who come along later. Also, don’t be afraid to change something back if you have a very good reason. Recently, my great grandfather, Albert Pace had his name changed in the FS Tree because someone had added the nickname “Prince” to his given name. The person who came along to take away this nickname was unrecognized by me, but while I thought the change was fine, they also went to the “Alternative Name” section and removed “Prince Albert” from this lower area. Since this person then proceeded to fill out a lot of information about the first marriage and the child born to that union (I’m a descendant of the second marriage), I’m assuming that is the side of the family from which they hail. So, instead of playing tit for tat, I went back and added “Prince Albert Pace” in the alternative name block with a note that said: “Reason This Information Is Correct – All of his children from the second marriage referred to Albert as “Prince Albert” – all of their descendants refer to him as such. I’m assuming this was his local nickname, with no information as to its origins. Please DO NOT remove this as it is a significant identifier from his direct descendants and an important part of his identity on a local and familial level.”
Moral of the story – Beef up the profiles, be kind, but be thorough, and don’t be afraid to communicate why you would like an element to stay. Collaboration is a GOOD THING! So far, people have been relatively nice about things if you reasonably explain the source behind a piece of information. Although, I have been tough on some lines, and chopped off a branch that ran wild with completely unsourced info – I detached with a notice that said “Please do not add parents of this person without citing a source – there are many theories out there, but no proof has been yet uncovered.” It’s a wonderful PSA to remind people about citing sources and the GPS – even if it is one little message at a time.
NOTE: We have a lot of work to do! There have been so many weird changes out there that the clean-up could be pretty intense, depending on your branch of the family tree. And yes, I know, some of them have run wild like a bramble bush that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve – but if we don’t get involved and bring along the pruning shears, it’s like a genealogy villain (misinformation) terrorizing a village with no superheroes to combat their dirty deeds. Just like indexing, I think we have a responsibility to dive headlong into the forest and make it a better place – with a myriad of opportunities to educate about resources as we go along.
OK – Everyone, go get your cape, shears, (and goggles for the mess) – we’re going in!
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tea Party
As you may have read in my Preface page, I also blog about tea – usually focused on the equipage necessary to make tea over the centuries (I have a really bad teapot/tea cup addiction) – but often about the tableau settings that demonstrate how tea was presented on a social level. Just last year, I purchased a turn of the century photo that really resonated with me on multiple levels. Not only was this clearly a photo of a “Tea Party” in action, but it was also a southern photo with an uncomfortable tableau. While the tea equipage looked to be in order, large teapot with cups and saucers, the people in this scene presented a remnant tableau of the old south. Even though this was turn of the 20th century (confirmed around 1910) – the white ladies are being served tea by “Uncle” Jerry Steves – a scene reminiscent of southern enslavement. Despite poor Jerry’s continued servitude over 50 years after the end of slavery, the other women were also named on the back, which led to a much larger story – one slightly connected to Kentucky, and the horse racing industry.
Let’s start by analyzing the photo.
The front speaks for itself: Formally attired black ‘servant’ pouring tea for the well dressed white ladies, with two little girls sitting on the ground in front of them. One thing I find to be humorous is the outdoor setting – including: Fancy chairs and table with tasseled rug draping the top, complete with china tea service of some kind. Upon closer inspection, this is not a lush pastoral lawn scene with meadow and garden flowers – oh no – the tiny blades of grass are so sparse that this resembles a dirt side area, complete with chicken running around in the foreground! So, this appears to be somewhat of a faux tableau. Despite their efforts at refinery, it appears that they are having a tea party in a chicken yard – I understand that chickens often roamed around a farm, near the house, and I do see some very tiny blades of grass….but a far cry from their intended luxurious tea tableau.
The back of the photo says:
“The Tea Party. ‘Uncle’ Jerry Steves. Rhoda Moncure. Elizabeth Moncure. Jacqueline Moncure. Edith Moncure.”
Finding the Moncure family:
Luckily, this last name, with the family unit containing a Rhoda and Edith, I was able to track them down pretty quickly. In 1910, this household is living together, sans Jerry Steves (I’ll get to him in a second) – but with an additional male, Elizabeth’s son and Rhoda’s husband, Ambler Moncure.
Elizabeth is a widow by 1910, and if you look closely at the children’s ages, Edith is 10 and Elizabeth J. (very likely our Jacqueline) is 6. Does this match the ages of the girls in the photos? Pretty darn close, I’m going to guess more like 1911 or 1912. The hairstyle and dress was my first guess at a year, and I was spot on with census confirmation.
All members of this family were born in Virginia (except for Rhoda as later census records place her birth in Ohio), with this census being recorded in Dinwiddie County. The widowed matriarch, head of the household, Elizabeth is 73 years old.
Looking at Elizabeth alongside Jerry Steves, I guessed they were of similar age. Now, one thing to note right away: The Moncure household had an Irish laborer in the household, but Jerry Steves was nowhere to be seen. Several pages forward and backward did not yield any clues.
However, a black man named Jerry Stevens was found as a head of household in the same county, but different precinct. He is 74 years old, and living with his 39 year old wife, Pinky! What a hoot! Go, Jerry! Living next door but in the same unit number is a 50 year old widow, Bettie Brown, with her 25 year old single daughter Lizzie Brown, and three young grandchildren with the same last name. Is this Jerry’s daughter and her household? Quite possibly. Of course, they could be Pinky’s sister and family.
The most important part of this photo is the fact that this may be the only extant image of Jerry, who was more than likely a former slave as he was born in Virginia (according to this census) in the 1830s. Which is why, after this post, I’m going to contact a local or state archive to inquire about donating the photo. It looks pretty special to me.
Raceland, the Wynns and Moncures:
When looking up the Moncure family in Findagrave, I located a few right away in Dinwiddie County, buried in a family cemetery on a farm/plantation called “Raceland.” Not all of the Moncure family were buried here, but those who entered some of the individuals in Findagrave also posted some links to the other members of the family. This gave me enough of a lead to locate the other members of the Moncure family buried in another local cemetery.
Here’s where history got creepy really fast. With this connection to Raceland, I did a simple Google search for Moncure + Raceland + Virginia = and bingo, some really cool pieces popped up – including a blog post by a former KHS colleague, Tim Talbot, written THIS YEAR! Cue the Twilight Zone music, because I ain’t done yet!
Tim did a lovely job filling in the backstory about the Wynn family who owned Raceland more than likely prior to the turn of the 19th century. To quote the historical marker at this site – BTW, the house still exists – the land and dwellings were developed as early as 1750.
One of the earliest Wynn family members to own Raceland was William Wynn who was known for his horse racing acumen. According to Tim’s blog, William Wynn owned the racehorse, Timolean, who later sired Boston, who was the sire of Lexington, the famed racehorse of Central Kentucky who became the patriarchal line of most modern thoroughbred pedigrees. I am even more familiar with this horse because of a family connection to a historic property we had been trying to save in Cynthiana, Kentucky – who would have thought that this one photo of a tea party would connect me back to the genealogy of a most famous Kentucky horse?! Huzzah!!
Some side notes:
Tim relates that the Wynn plantation was sold to the Moncure family (Marshall Moncure) in 1883, but what he probably did not realize is that Marshall’s wife was Elizabeth Wynn Moncure – so when it was sold to Marshall Moncure, it was staying in the family through Elizabeth.
A note about the enslaved groups on Raceland – Tim listed the number of slaves owned by the Wynn family over the decades – from 35, to 65, to around 38 near the Civil War. Which makes me think more and more about Jerry. With Elizabeth and Jerry so close in age and the label calling him “Uncle” Jerry, I’m going to make a leap and suggest that Jerry was probably owned by the Wynn family prior to the war, and therefore, probably from Raceland.
Of course, I can’t be 100% certain on this summation, simply because there are too many mixed up trees and reports out there regarding which Wynn owned which place – and which Wynn children belonged to which Wynn patriarch – you get the idea. We do know that Raceland was owned by William Wynn, owner of the horse mentioned above. We also know that this William did not stay there permanently, and moved to Arkansas to continue his horse racing endeavors. Somewhere in this timeframe, John Wynn became the new owner of Raceland. Tim reports that John was William’s son, which is possible, knowing the birthdate of William (1784) – but other family members out there are reporting that John was a son of Robert – I know nothing about Robert – and so I will leave the sorting out to the descendants.
It is clear, however, that John owned Raceland during the pre-War decades, at least according to the historical marker – but did he really? According to the 1860 census, John had no real estate value, although he listed $58,000+ in personal property – most likely a combo of livestock and slaves. Ten years earlier, in 1850, John lists 35 enslaved individuals in his slave schedule entry. But, going back to the 1860 census, a William G. Wynn was living next door to John and his family and listed $215,000 in real estate value along with $53,000+ in personal property. The William living next door was not John’s father as they are too close in age. So, who really owned Raceland? A question to be answered by another researcher.
I was curious as to the enslavement taking place between William G and John Wynn who lived next door to each other. Between the two of them (it should be noted that William also listed a group who had belonged to the estate of Mary Jones) there were 78 enslaved individuals. Drumroll please, did any of the black males in either slave schedule match the age Jerry would have been at the time? Sadly, nope. Jerry should have been 13 in 1850 and 23 in 1860, and the closest I could get in these households were 16 and 26, although, while there isn’t anything close in 1860, there is a 12 year old boy in John Wynn’s household in 1850.
So….why aren’t Jerry’s details matching up?
When reviewing the 1910 census, Jerry was living just two residences from Richard Wynn, who, according to the John Wynn household of 1860, was Elizabeth’s brother. The age in 1910 for that Richard is an exact match.
While it would be convenient to associate Jerry to Richard Wynn, Jerry threw us a huge curve ball:
According to the 1902 marriage of Jerry and Pinky, Jerry gives his name as Jerry Stephens – with a birth year of 1837 and his birthplace as Mississippi – NOT Virginia – even though his birthplace is listed as Virginia (as well as that of his parents) in the 1910 census. As a bonus, he gives the names of his parents: James and Esther Stephens. Pinky’s parents were also included: Abram and Charlotte Coles. Pinky, on the other hand, listed her birthplace as Dinwiddie County Virginia.
Was the photo taken at Raceland, the residence of the Moncure family? Despite Jerry’s residence elsewhere in the county, did he work there as a domestic – thereby explaining the common, yet pretentious endearment, “Uncle”? Did Jerry happen to work for Richard instead and perhaps the picture was taken at Richard’s house during a visit to Elizabeth’s brother? Pure speculation.
Does Jerry’s birthplace indicate that he had no pre-war connection to the Wynn family? Quite possibly. However, let us not forget that slave sales extended beyond borders, and Jerry’s presence could be a matter of pre-war sale happenstance. Also, remember, that the Wynn family relocated to Arkansas, and based on a couple of others buried at Raceland, the family members did travel back and forth between these states. Jerry could have been an acquisition during those years – OR – was he, instead, connected to the Moncure family?
This family also owned large plantations in Virgina, and Marshall Moncure’s parents both died in New Orleans (according to a couple of older local history books) – with the Louisiana and Missisisippi slave markets so entwined, we cannot rule out a Moncure relationship for Jerry. It should also be noted that Jacquelin’s name comes from the family name and plantation name associated with the Moncure ancestors – as their number of enslaved workforce had to be huge – they cannot be ruled out as a pre-war connection for Jerry.
It is tremendously sad that Jerry’s pre-war life is so shrouded in mystery – although, having the names of his parents might help those in further research. Jerry’s roots may be firmly entrenched in Mississippi, and he may only be connected to Dinwiddie County by his new wife. But, remember the Brown household living in the same unit as Jerry and Pinky? As a post script, the 1880 census listed another Brown household living between the households of Marshall Moncure and his brother Dr. James Moncure. Marshall was listed as a servant in the hospital, while his brother James was a doctor there. The black family living between them was the household of Martha Brown, listed as a cook. Does this give us a directional clue as to Jerry’s connection? Again, we cannot say for certain.
I’m hoping someone out there will recognize Jerry Stevens/Stephens and his family (Pinky, James, Esther) – regardless, hopefully, others can resume Jerry’s research after it arrives at a Virginia archive. Once it is placed, I will amend this post to report its final destination.