28    Sep 20090 comments

User Story: More than 200 Family Members On Our Site

Jack Gilchrist is a MyHeritage.com member from Michigan. He has brought all those in his family who are family historians, genealogy hobbyists or just interested in the family, together on his MyHeritage website. The result is an impressive tree of over 2000 people, 200 members and hundreds of photos. Even more so considering he only really started building it in 2009. Read about it here:

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The Gilchrist 2006 Reunion

I started with MyHeritage in February 2009. It was my first venture into genealogy or any major effort to document my family tree, its history and old family stories and mug shots.

I got into genealogy because my kids asked me a few years ago to jot down some of the stories I liked to tell about growing up in the "Good Old Days". So I wrote down over 40 pages of what it was like growing up in a neat family in the 40's and 50's. I then gave each of my four children a copy as part of their Christmas gift that year. It captured a lot of the old family stories I could remember from being born in 1941 to around 1965, when I finished college and started my first full time job.

The exercise got me thinking about my family history in general and the other stories that others likely had that I had never even heard. Then I lost my oldest living uncle in 2008 and it dawned on me that if I didn't get going my elder relative's stories would soon be lost for good.

I discovered many individuals in our family working independently on our family history. Some of these folks were communicating by mail and then recording the stories they collected on paper. Others family genealogy hobbyists were capturing basic family tree statistics in spread sheets. One was collecting and distributing old family pictures on CDs. Later on I even found some relatives that were taking pictures of gravesites and recording the GPS locations of historical family home sites. So we have teamed up now and are using the MyHeritage web site as our collection and distribution center for the family.

The furthest back that I have been able to find family is 1515 in one branch of my family tree, but in general I was able to take most branches back into the early 1700s.

In many cases I have discovered when and how ancestors migrated, their occupations, religious views, military service, hobbies, cause of death, burial site, pictures (after 1800), and of course basic genealogy data including date and place of birth, marriage and death.

I found the discovery process to be quite addictive. Something like trying to solve a 2000 piece puzzle where all the pieces are the same solid color. Over time I learned to leverage lots of sources like funeral records, pictures of gravesite markers and historical records of various military units captured in some state archives.

At this time I have 2333 people in my family tree, 222 family members using our family tree web site and somewhere around 1500 pictures of family members.

I actually found that it was usually more difficult not to find the dead family members, but to locate and build the living members in many branches of my family as contact with them had been lost over time. But I located a handful of relatives when my tree started expanding to a point where it overlapped with ones being built by another family member. The smart matches lead me to make contact with the other person and we would then work together to fill in the details around where our trees touched. Then they would invite other family members that they knew to also join. At a certain point in the process it just seems to reach a critical mass and move forward under its own power. It reminds me of making a large snowball on the side of a hill; at some point it takes off downhill under its own power.

When I have been getting in touch with family members, their reaction was usually very positive and lead to the exchange of lots of additional information both using Smart Matches and conventional email to swap other records.

Besides being a way of keeping in touch with family members, MyHeritage.com has been very helpful for the reunions that our family has organized. The two branches of our family have somewhat regular reunions. One has around 30 people and the other around 80. Our Heritage family web site was one of the ways the announcement for the reunion went out. The address list generated from Family Tree Builder was also used for other Email and Snail mail notices. Hand-outs were distributed so interested parties could join the web site and request tailored reports of their ancestors and descendants.

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Great grandfather William Critchlow

My family tree captures many individual stories. In fact, my family has so many stories now that we have consolidated the family stories for each major branch of the family tree and are offering them as separate documents readable on our MyHeritage site.

So let's conclude our article with two nice examples:

My great grandfather William Critchlow

Will was born in 1857 in Venango, Pennsylvania but went to Laramie, Wyoming by train when he was 21 due to suffering from tuberculosis. According to his stories, he got a job as a sheepherder for a local rancher and had a covered wagon, a horse and a gun. He stayed on the range year round. He would place a salt lick in the area where he wanted the sheep to graze. When the grass was depleted he would move the salt lick to a new area. Dead animals were dragged well away from the streams. He herded sheep for three years. William then met and married Margaret Atwell and they had thirteen children. The older boys worked with their father farming and teaming. Their teaming consisted of a variety of jobs, including hauling coal to the oil fields where steam engines were the source of power. They also hauled oil drilling rigs from one location to another for the drillers. They had two or three teams at a time and worked at this for about 20 years.

Will had many stories of the severe weather with animals freezing to death and other horrible examples but he always refused to tell his children any stories about violence.

Richard Dunmore
Richard Dunmore Critchlow

My Great great grandfather Richard Dunmore Critchlow

Richard Dunmore Critchlow was born in England in1829. As a teenager, he worked on the road being built between London and Liverpool. When he was 19, he came across in a sailboat to Philadelphia. According to family legend, the crew caught a whale on the journey. After it was brought onboard, someone was walking on the whale when it flipped its tail and threw him overboard.

According to family stories, he landed in Philadelphia and took the train to western Pennsylvania. In that time, traveling was nothing like it is now. When the train reached a steep mountain climb, history has it, passengers got out and walked up the mountain as the railroad crew sanded the rails. At one point passengers crossed a river (probably the Susquehanna) by ferry and boarded another train for the rest of the trip.

Because of his experience in road building, Richard got a job working on the Pittsburgh - Butler plank road, which is now the well known Route 8.

He purchased six acres for $60 which he later sold for only $30. He likely made money by selling timber to the road builders. As the plank road progressed he purchased a farm, and then another, and then another. He finally settled in the Slippery Rock area at the Route 8 - Branchton crossroads. What we know is that by the end of this road construction Richard was the owner of many large tracks of land. This land remained in his family for a long period of time. Some of it is still in the possession of his descendants.

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