Are you wondering how much time it will take to build your family tree? Here’s a breakdown of what to expect, and why it may help to hire a professional.
As professional genealogists, a question we receive frequently is, “How long will it take to build my family tree back as far as possible?”
If by, “as far as possible,” we mean as far back as the records go – which is usually considered around 1500 unless you connect into royalty – the answer is: a very long time!
Putting In The Time
First, consider the exponential rate at which family trees grow the further back they go. Generation 1 is only one person: yourself. Generation 2 is only two people: your parents. However, Generation 3 is four people, Generation 4 is eight people, Generation 5 is sixteen people, and Generation 6 is thirty-two people! This only usually goes back to the mid-1800s for most people alive today.
It is around generation 16 that you reach about the year 1500 in a typical pedigree. A family tree that goes 16 generations back on all lines would include 65,535 people! At only five minutes per individual for a genealogist to simply record names, dates, and places, that is 5,461 hours and 15 minutes. And that is only direct ancestors – it does not include all the siblings, spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives that are part of the whole family.
Consider Record Availability
Another factor to consider is the quality of the available records. In the United States and Canada there never was a national church where births, marriages, and deaths were recorded. Although this freedom of religion is appreciated, it does complicate genealogy research. Neither were major life events required to be recorded with the local government as they are today, and our ancestors were often too busy settling the country to bother paying attention to their birth date or writing down their parents’ names. Any existing records often only contain scattered bits and pieces of genealogy information.
Even in countries where everyone brought their newborns to the local church for baptism and therefore left many records, these are usually handwritten and often do not contain indexes. They can be organized according to all sorts of methods which require page-by-page searching to find one specific record. Doing family history research within these old records can be a careful and time-consuming process.
Genealogy “Brick Walls”
Finally, keep in mind the potential for brick walls. These are the sticky spots in a family tree where a parent cannot be identified for one reason or another. Sometimes (though we pride ourselves on this not being often) it truly is a dead end, but every possible avenue of research should be pursued before this can be determined. There are many methods for breaking through brick walls in genealogy – building a case of circumstantial evidence, collecting every possible record on the ancestor, searching for clues through the ancestor’s children’s records or those of neighbors, DNA evidence, etc. – but they all have one thing in common: time. Leaving no stone unturned can take a lot of time!
Analyzing Your Family Tree
One more thing to consider is accuracy. If you want your pedigree to truly reflect your heritage and ancestry, it is important for it to be accurate. One wrong connection in a tree can send the rest of that line in the wrong direction! Therefore, it is important to take the time to document, verify, and ensure that each connection is true and accurate. An online tree going back to Henry IV can be tempting to snap up and claim, but it should be very carefully reviewed.
Genealogy is fun and important because it helps us understand who we are, but good genealogy is not quick. Large family trees that go back to the beginning of the written record take a long time to build. So enjoy the journey, enjoy each triumph and step along the way, and celebrate each new ancestor added to your growing tree. Genealogy is a labor of love…and patience!
Do you need help tracing your ancestors? With genealogists specializing in all different types of research and onsite agents worldwide, we can help you track down those elusive records that might provide the clue(s) needed to extend your family line. Contact us today and request a free quote.
I am looking for Syntha McGree She was born in 1826 ? around Giles Tennessee. She married at 14 teen to George Washington Britton. Her parents were Indian .
Duane Reynolds says
Really good information, Elly. I had never taken the numbers back that far. Although sites like Ancestry and others like to show how easy it is, it takes time to follow-up and build solid family trees and most of them contain a brick wall somewhere. But the stories and the people you meet along the way, keep it interesting.
Elly Catmull says
Thanks, Duane! I would definitely agree that it is discovering the stories along the way that make genealogy fun.
When I wrote this article, my experience was mostly with genealogy in European roots. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to assist with Asian family history which has really opened my eyes to the depth of human history. Many Chinese families have been keeping family history records since about 1000 AD and if these records escaped destruction, what a gold mine of family history they are. That’s 20 generations! Some family lines can even be extended back an additional three thousand years to 2000 BC!! Truly mind boggling.