Monday, June 11, 2012

Bottom-Up and Top-Down Research On Common-Name Line



Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day diving into my Lamboo ancestral line. I received a huge gedcom file a few years back from a Lamboo cousin which traces this line back to the German ancestor in the late 16th century. The problem with this file is that it has almost no sources mentioned. But it’s a descendancy of the earliest known Lamboo ancestor, so it’s very inclusive – much more inclusive than my own research, since I’m working on a pedigree with myself as the starting point. I write down direct ancestors and all of their children (including spouses if I find a marriage), but don’t go down any more generations, unless I stumble across that information.

Now, back when I got this file, I was planning on going through the tree and verifying the information. I soon realized, though, that the Lamboo surname is very common in the Voorschoten/Zoeterwoude region – with many children being named after parents or uncles and aunts, resulting in several people with the same name living at the same time. And not only that, there seems to be a Lamboo branch in Leiden that might or might not be at some point related to the Voorschoten/Zoeterwoude branch. If a mistake was made by attaching the wrong parents to one of my ancestors, it would be very hard to spot that mistake by simply looking up the original sources. Not to mention that the Lamboo name has several alternative spellings which are also surnames in their own right, bringing the total count of ‘possible ancestors’ up to a very high number indeed.

I needed a new way of verifying this file. So I’ve decided to do a bottom-up search, accompanied by a more specific top-down search afterwards. The bottom-up approach is fairly inclusive. I search for all the Lamboo people in the region. All the primary records are archived and indexed in the same, regional database, making this easy. This gives me a huge list of marriages, births and deaths of Lamboo people, as well as that information on the death of spouses and the birth and deaths of children from Lamboo women – who do not have the Lamboo surname. I make a huge stack of index cards for this and then try to match parents to children, building a family tree. Of course, there are ‘floating branches’ – families I cannot attach to anyone else – and even ‘loose leaves’ – people with the Lamboo surname whose parents I haven’t found yet. I did this on my living room floor for the years 1865 – present (as far as records would allow).

This gave me certainty about the Lamboo families in that time period and how they were connected. It was then a simple task of finding my great-grandparents (the records of my grandparents are not yet available), and just grab their ‘branch’ of the Lamboo family. Sure, some of the other branches might be connected to my line further back, but since I’m not working on a descendancy, I’m not really interested in them. Now, this method is not full-proof, since I used the transcribed index and not the actual sources to save myself time. But it’s only the first step.

The next step I took was the top-down method. For each direct ancestor I searched from date of birth until present on all possible name variants, as well as just on the spouses ’s name (in case there were children born before the marriage or she had a previous marriage). This top-down method made sure I had all children for each couple, as well as their children’s marriages (even if the parents were already deceased), as well as previous marriages. All this information was then entered into my family tree, with notes that I still need to check the original sources. Then, and only then, did I compare it with the gedcom file I got from my cousin.

The result? I ended up having data that was not in the gedcom file I got, and there was some data (mainly the more recent data for which certificates are not yet public) that I did not have. But, more importantly, there was no conflicting data. Not only does this make the file as a whole more reliable in my eyes, it also means that I don’t have to retrace that part of the tree again in order to figure out who made the mistake – him or me.

Though this method may be a bit time consuming, for me it is the best way to deal with a family tree made by someone else. It gives me more experiences in researching, it clearly shows that new data can always be found, no matter how complete something may look, and it verifies the unsourced data. Now, if I can just find the time to look at the period 1627-1865 for the Lamboo name and its name variants. That should bring me close to that German ancestor named in the gedcom.

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