My data base currently (as of March 2009) consists of about 52,000 names. I started my data base in January of 1999. I was able to include so many names so quickly only because so much data was readily available from so many other researchers.
The data base has a bad case of mission creep. I started out intending to include only my ancestors (all lines). That's bad enough because the number of lines doubles with every generation. I might have been better off following only my Bryan line. But very soon after starting the data base, I decided to include descendants of my ancestors. That meant that I was including aunts, uncles, and cousins. At that point in the evolution of my thinking, my idea was that everybody in the data base would either be related to me or else would be married to somebody that was related to me (I was including spouses at all levels of the data base, and still am).
But shortly thereafter, I decided to include ancestors of my children. That meant that I was including my ex-wife's lines. Finally, my first grandchildren were born in May of 1999. So I decided to include their ancestors as well. That now means that I am including my son-in-law's lines. If my other children get married and if more grandchildren are born, then I will include those lines as well.
I started the data base by entering descendants of Peter Bryan. Peter Bryan moved to what is now East Tennessee from Virginia in about 1790, and started the Bryan family in Sevier County. Tennessee became a state in 1796, and Peter Bryan was a signer of the original Tennessee constitution.
Peter Bryan was my fifth great grandfather. The descendants of Peter Bryan who I entered were researched by William Jackson Bryan -- my Uncle Jack. I entered the data into a Family Origins data base, using a typewritten manuscript from Uncle Jack. He has been researching Bryans in East Tennessee and western Virginia for many years, visiting court houses, cemeteries, libraries, and so forth. I have now converted from Family Origins to RootsMagic, which is the replacement product for Family Origins and which is by the same author as Family Origins.
The next big step was to include some GEDCOM data concerning the descendants of Peter Bryan which I received from Roberta Pierson. Roberta is a descendant of Peter Bryan whom I met on the Internet. She is a very prolific researcher, and is well known in Internet genealogy circles as a very careful researcher who requires a high standard of proof for her results. Roberta's data complements Uncle Jack's data very well because they had emphasized different lines in their research. Uncle Jack had data which Roberta did not have and vice versa.
The third big step was to merge in data from Elizabeth Cate Manly's book Bryans, Hortons and Allied Families which was published in 1978. ECM's book focuses on descendants of Peter Bryan, although it includes data on many other families in East Tennessee such as the Cates, the Hortons, and the Drinnens. ECM's book is a wonderful resource and she appears to have been a careful researcher, but some of her information has been shown not to be correct by subsequent research that was not available to her.
Those three big steps provided a basic outline for a good data base. In the meantime I have availed myself of many other sources of information. These include but are not limited to: personal visits to cemeteries (in particular, the Bryan-Drinnen-Cate cemetery), GEDCOM from Bob Woodhead with data on my children's maternal line, the Williamson family bible with data on my mother's mother's family, the Peters family bible with data on my mother's father's family, additional correspondence with Roberta Pierson, correspondence with Roger Harrison on the Harrisons, Burl Underwood's book The Underwoods, From Roaring Gap (NC) To Dumplin Valley (TN) and Onward and Related Families (Revised Edition 1986) on the Underwoods, a Cox family history prepared by Uncle Jack which has about as much data on the Coxes as his history of the Bryans has on the Bryans, Carter family history from Sam Carter, Slaton family history from Hazel Cox, census data and marriage lists from various counties throughout the country (some such data is on the Internet, other such data I have found in the McClung Collection at the Knoxville Public Library), and E-mails from numerous cousins I have met on the Internet. The Family History Centers of the Latter Day Saints and the Latter Day Saints Web site deserve a special mention of their own. They have a tremendous amount of data available, although it requires thorough verification.
There are many different surnames in my data base. Curiously, Bryan is not the most common. Rather, the most common surname in my data base is Cate. This comes about (in part) because I have two different Cate lines. My third great grandfather was Peter H. Bryan. Peter H. Bryan was the son of Thomas C. Bryan Sr. and Nancy Cate, and he married Mary Ann Cate. As far as I know, Nancy Cate and Mary Ann Cate were not closely related if at all, and the only connection they have is that they were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to each other. But in any case my data base includes Nancy Cate's line as well as Mary Ann Cate's line.
My philosophy on how much verification is required for data from other researchers is still evolving. On the one hand, if I insist on doing all the research myself and insist on going back completely to original source documents for every single person in my database, I would have very few names in my data base. On the other hand, if I simply include all the data I can find, especially from the Internet and from CD's, I will have a lot of bogus data in my data base. I want as much data as possible, and I want it all to be correct. My compromise is sort a "trust but verify" approach. I share data with other researchers and use data from other researchers. I do not think it is possible or reasonable to personally verify each name in my data base nor each fact in my data base. I think the genealogy community is doing that in a collective sense.
But I do a good bit of independent verification, plus I try to learn which researchers are very careful. I am personally verifying all the data in my various direct lines. I am gathering and referencing as many primary source documents as possible. Finally, I do not think that any genealogical documents -- even birth certificates and death certificates -- can be regarded as 100% accurate beyond reasonable doubt. For example, I have in my possession death certificates which look very official and which are signed by all the appropriate government entities, and which nevertheless contain inaccuracies. So I think we have to operate with sort of a "preponderance of the evidence" approach rather than a "beyond reasonable doubt" approach in genealogical research, even working with the best possible primary source documents. And we need to find as many different primary source documents as possible which deal with the same set of genealogical facts. For example, wills plus census data plus court house marriage records plus deeds plus family bibles are better than census data alone or wills alone.
This page last edited on 02 Sep 2010.