In the merry pursuit of ancestry, leaping lightly from twig to twig on the family tree, we tend to lose sight of the fact that an ancestor is a person from whom one is directly descended. That is, by blood, which is why an Ancestry Chart is sometimes referred to as a Blood Descent. A correctly produced Ancestry Chart includes all lines of ascent through male and female lines.
For genealogical purposes, the term family includes all people of the same name and blood descended from a common male-line ancestor. This is quite different from the everyday usage of the term, which includes close relatives of both father and mother and grandchildren by both sons and daughters.
These days, the study of family history covers research into one’s forebears, often with the object of putting together a narrative history for the benefit of living relatives and future generations. An ideal narrative history should place the family members in the context of their times, giving an insight into their life events.
Since the number of ancestors doubles with each generation, there are more than enough direct ancestors to research without starting on collateral lines. Sometimes, of course, a ‘sideways search’ might help in identifying a problem ancestor.
The photograph below shows a group of my HAMILTONs: of those included, only my great grandfather, great grandmother and their son, my grandfather, are my direct ancestors. The others are my grandfather’s siblings.
|Hamiltons of Stevenston, Ayrshire|
A few quick searches on ScotlandsPeople provide information on all of them – but where does it all end? Do I proceed further forward to the next generation and the next, in each case? There has to be some consideration of time and costs in such an exercise.
The alternative is to stick to the direct line and use the extra time for in-depth research into the people from whom I truly descend. Disadvantage: going that route you could miss a wealth of interesting stories and some weird and wonderful distant cousins.
While on the subject, descendant is another term bandied about indiscriminately. A descendant has a proven descent from a particular ancestor. I have used this example before, but it’s a good one: nobody could describe themselves as a descendant of the poet John Keats, who had no children and therefore has no descendants. Ergo, a person descended from Keats’s brother cannot refer to Keats as his ancestor nor to himself as a descendant of Keats. (With apologies to Terrick FitzHugh for mangling his perfect prose.)