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This family tree was last updated on March 25, 2020.

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Place Hierarchy redux
August 6, 2018 - 5:49:54 p.m.

In genealogy, the place hierarchy is one of the most important pieces of information for every event, and yet there is no standard way for writing them, or for the content contained in them. Each family tree or repository may have its own way of tracking where an event happened.

Here is an example place hierarchy, for a famous burial location in Morocco:

La Grotte des Pigeons, Tafoughalt, Berkane Province, Oriental, Morocco

This is a cave in eastern Morocco which may be the oldest known formal burial place, with remains dating back between 15,100-13,900 years.

The place hierarchy has elements going from the most-specific place name to the least-specific place name which encompasses all the other places. In this case La Grotte des Pigeons is within the region of the town of Tafoughalt, which is within the Berkane Province, which is in the Oriental region of the sovereign state of Morocco. 

This is as far as the OurFamily family tree goes. We could add the elements Africa, Terra, and some family trees do require the continental region, but it can cause some confusion. For example, Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a small archipelago of islands in the Atlantic Ocean in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, on the North American plate (and just a couple miles from the shores of Canada.) But it is part of France, and officially part of the European Union. Similarly, Hawaiʻi is in the continental region of Oceania, but part of the United States of America.

So we should explain the guidelines for place hierarchy for this family tree - it applies only to this tree, and while we think these ‘rules’ are logical and useful, by no means is it authoritative. And they are open to change. If you think something should be done differently, or something is not clear but could be made so, pipe up! We are always looking for ways to improve our records.

  • Punctuation matters! Do not use commas except between elements. Place hierarchies should not include additional descriptions or lists - include such information elsewhere in the event entry or an attached note. The address field, for example.
  • Use the locations as they were officially known at the time of the event.
    • For countries which currently exist in the same form, use the ISO 3166-1 three-letter abbreviation. e.g. for dates after July 1812, the United States of America should be abbreviated as USA.
    • For places whose countries which no longer exist, or whose country has undergone a fundamental shift in governance, or which are not officially represented in ISO 3166-1, use the long form of the official country name at the time of the event. e.g. Deutsches Reich was the official long form name of the country of Germany from 1871-1945, encompassing the Deutsches Kaiserreich (German Empire), Weimarer Republik (Weimar Republic), and the early Nazi periods (Drittes Reich, Third Reich or Third Empire.)  
      • NOTE BENE: Where a country no longer exists, but a descendant nation does exist with a common English-language translation, do NOT use the English term; use the source language official long form. This helps avoid confusion later.
  • Generally, elements of a place hierarchy correspond to levels of government. In the USA these are commonly: municipal/township, county/parish/canton/region within a state, state, USA.
    • Different countries/regions have differing levels of government, they may have more or fewer elements.
    • Missing elements should be indicated by an extra comma and space. e.g. Radium, , Minnesota, USA is lacking the in-state region (in this case, the county named Marshall.)
    • Places of burial are a special case, and can be an additional more-specific element.
  • Common words and abbreviations, such as County, parish, Twp, etc. should be included. (The software will ignore these in some locations, but it is useful for researchers to know the difference between New York City, New York County, New York, USA.)
  • Do not use:
    • in, near, at, or similar words to describe a location.
    • street address
    • Hospital, sanatorium, or other specific building, campus, school, etc. unless it is also a level of local government. 
    • Ditto for farm, ranch, forest, park or other land area. In both cases use the address field.
  • Some special cases:
    • At sea
      • Remember to include the vessel name if known, e.g. S.S. Achilles, at sea.
      • For events at sea which include an address field, include the ship’s route if known - e.g. Antwerp, Belgium to New York, USA. Also, if the cabin is known include that information here.
    • Battles, battle fields
      • Military actions are rarely confined to a single place. Generally the specific battlefield name and location should be in the address field, not the place hierarchy, except where the event is memorialized at the site. In that case, the location of the memorial is used even where it is not the precise location of the precise event.
Places in time and space
July 5, 2017 - 6:08:12 a.m.

Description of the Coasts, Points, Harbours and Islands of New France, by Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635)There are many ways to recognize a place where an event occurs.

Most genealogists use a 'place hierarchy' which move, left to right, from the most specific/local to the broadest/national government or administrative level. In most cases each 'element' is contained within the next element, for example village, township, county, state, nation.

This works really well when all the events being considered are contemporary. But genealogy can be concerned with very broad swathes of time. Nations may begin, rise, fall, and be completely replaced while a single family line remains in place. An early ancestor was established in North America before the existence of any formal colony, and xyr family remained in place through the development of Nouvelle France, Nouvelle France Royale, Province of the Kingdom of Great Britain, Province of the United Kingdoms, Canada of the United Kingdom, to Canada of the Commonwealth of Nations. And there were several other stages within those larger nation-state changes.

But an example is better than a theoretical discussion.

The Kingdom of England flag.Take the reported place of death for Jacques Maugras (P206), who died in 1690: Salmon Falls, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Kingdom of England. The Kingdom of England[en.wp] existed from the 10th century to 1707, when it merged with the Kingdom of Scotland[en.wp] to become the Kingdom of Great Britain[en.wp].

The flag of Nouvelle France RoyaleThe next level of administration is rather more disputed. In 1686 James II of England had amalgamated the several provinces of New England into a single entity because they were developing disputes over land claims, to prevent the over-reach of the Puritan colony of Massachusetts, and to reduce costs. But James was deposed by William and Mary in 1688, and the Dominion of New England collapsed, leaving the region encompassing Salmon Falls without a second-tier administration. The former Province of Massachusetts claimed authority, as the remnant of the Massachusetts Bay Company, the Province of New York believed they had a claim, as did the former Province of New Hampshire. And the local English settlers believed they were independent since none of the above were actually providing services or security. With the news of the new English monarchs came the knowledge they had joined the League of Augsburg in war against France, and immediately engaged in raids into Acadia, Nouvelle France, abrogating the Treaty of Casco 1678 among other agreements which settled King Philip's War.

Finally, we need to mention that Salmon Falls was a long-populated location. Under the Abenaki peoples it was known as Newichawannock, but European settlers had begun appropriating land in the region as early as 1630 calling it Kittery Commons or Kittery North Parish. By 1675 the settlement was known as Salmon Falls, though it was small, and it was raided during King Phillip's War. The village was razed, the survivors sent north as captives, in 1690 as part of a revenge campaign by the French Baron de Saint-Castin for the Governor of Massachusetts's raids and massacres of Acadians and Abenaki. Saint-Castin and the Abenaki Confederation effectively depopulated the entire region of English and Dutch settlers, and the area of Salmon Falls was not resettled until 1703 when the previous name Newichawannock was again used for the rebuilt settlement. In 1713 the Massachusetts legislative body incorporated the village under the name Berwick, named after Berwick-upon-Tweed - the northernmost town in England. 

So, here are the reasonably correct names for this location in 1690 though by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Based on the Kingdom of England
    • Salmon Falls, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Kingdom of England
    • Salmon Falls, Province of New Hampshire, Kingdom of England
    • Salmon Falls, Province of Maine, Kingdom of England
    • Salmon Falls, Dominion of New England, Kingdom of England
  • Based on the Kingdom of France/Wabanaki Confederation
    • Newichawannock, Acadia, Nouvelle France Royale, Kingdom of France
    • Newichawannock, Wabanahkik, Wabanaki Confederation


Now consider that the town went through at least two more names, the American Revolution, decades of negotiations about Maine's borders (which were not settled until 1842, and even now there are a few issues outstanding with Québec, Canada.)  And all these names, and shifts in government, are about a single populated location which has at most 500 years of recorded history.

Flag of MaineSo every event which happened here must be located not only in space, but in time. Starting with the incorporation, the names likely would be:

  • Under British rule:
    • (1713) Berwick, Province of Massachusetts Bay, Kingdom of Great Britain (with the Treaty of Utrecht)
  • Under United States rule:
    • (1783) Berwick, Massachusetts, United States
    • (1820) Berwick, Maine, United States


A pair of photos
February 27, 2017 - 9:56:58 p.m.

If you are connected via the Ranum family surname, I discovered a pair of photographs of individuals you have probably never heard from who are quite distantly connected. This is more of my old photos obsession, of course. So maybe I will explain the story in photos, since I can.

Betty (Waagedahl) Ranum

Fern (Davis) Waagedahl

Mary-Alnora (seated) and Eva Dixson

Isaac Elliot DixsonMary-Alnora's father was Isaac Elliot Dixson, whose mother was Phoebe (Elliot) Dixson and his sister was Ruth McCall (Dixson) Gruwell.

Phoebe Elliot Dixson and daughter Ruth McCall Dixson Gruwell

Ruth McCall Dixson married Daniel Ira Gruwell, and their daughter Mary Alice Gruwell is the subject of the new photo. Mary Alice Gruwell's husband, Thomas Elmer Williams is the other.

Mary Alice GruwellThomas Elmer Williams


Mary's photo is purported to be from 1894, when she would have been 15 years of age, according to Sarah Gruwell who shared the photos on Find-a-grave. The age of Thomas's photo was not given.


You Are Related to Everybody: Or, how I stopped worrying about numbers and started worrying about accuracy.
February 22, 2017 - 7:16:48 p.m.

Mathematically the odds of any two people sharing a distant ancestor and both having inherited the same unique genetic trait is astronomically unlikely. There are just far, far too many variables which contrive to reduce the chances.

Graph example of genetic heritageAnd yet it happens all the time; a person born in Norway shares genetic material with a person born in Turkey. Or even more divergently. That it happens at all between, say, an Inuit in Canada and a Maori in New Zealand is mindboggling.

Until you begin to look at the numbers.

The number of ancestors you have grows very rapidly as you go back through the generations, as we all know. Every generation back raises the number of possible ancestors by the power of 2, 2^2 = four grandparents, 2^3 = 8 great-grandparents, and so on. Assuming a conservative average of 33 years between generations (what generation really waits that long to begin having babies on average?), that comes to 30 generations in 1 000 years, 1 073 741 824 possible ancestors, which is almost certainly more than the entire population of Europe in the year 1017.

Which means two things: many more of your ancestors married your other ancestors than you probably know about, and many more of your ancestors traveled further than you probably thought possible way back then.

Y-DNA frequencies in Europe.To give an example of the latter first, a specific genetic heritage for red hair is mapped to Ireland about 4500 years ago. But this same genetic trait was found in a burial site in the Tibetan highlands from 6000 years ago, in a location known for its use as a trade route. Either the genetic mapping is presumptuous in guessing the trait started in Ireland, or people with the trait were traveling all the way to China along trade routes nearly 3700 years before Alexander the Great.

But looking at the numbers you realize just how much endogamy must have been taking place, probably for the most part unknowingly. The estimated population of Europe at the beginning of the High Middle Ages (1000-1250) may have been 30 million, and would rise to 100 million. Any person of European genetic extraction must be descended from nearly every one of these with many many crosses to come up with the more than a billion possible ancestors from this generation. We can roughly estimate there must be 60% shared ancestors throughout the person's ancestry, if we accept the premise that Europeans held firm to only breed with other Europeans.

Map of the range Scythia in 100 BCEBut they didn't. If we look at early Roman art we see they looked far more like the North African people of Carthage prior to the sweeping invasions from Asia. In the east, bronze-age Scythian and Cimmeran cultures show clear genetic blending from Mongolia, Siberia, and China with predominatey Eastern European, while recent studies of iron-age samples show a more insular Iranic-speaking people of south-central Asia.

The numbers dominate, they over-rule prejudice and persuasion and family myths. Our longest known chain of ancestry is 18 generations. If they never intermarried and I looked only from that most recent generation through just the ancestors there could be 262 144 people at the furthest generation. And I know two of them.

The family tree currently includes more than 3 000 individuals, almost all of them in the most recent 3 generations - aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on. I will almost certainly never fill in the hundreds of thousands of people in those 18 generations of ancestors, and all their inter-relations. But I will try to fill in some of the blanks.

And since the task of numbers is impossible, I will focus instead on accuracy.

Partial family try of Elizabeth II of England

Sources, sourcing, and citation
February 5, 2017 - 6:31:16 p.m.

This is more a blog entry than a news item, yet useful for me to write because it forces me to think about this vital topic critically.

Webtrees allows every event to include reference to sources. To be reliable, every event should be documented with at least two independent sources, but in practice this is almost never possible. When we do have a source to rely on, we need to rank the subjective quality of the source, and Webtrees helps us here by listing the standard four quality levels for sources, although with non-standard nomenclature:

Baptism of Jean-Baptiste Tessier, 1672, Basilique Notre-Dame Montréal Primary evidence

Source material which is very close to the event in time, and directly documents the event. Note the phrase "directly documents" - having a ticket stub to the first Superbowl game documents the game, but having a cancelled, dated check written by an ancestor to pay for that ticket would be required to directly document the ancestor attending the game. (Even then it might be considered secondary evidence - they may have purchased the ticket for someone else.)

This class of source is an artifact—a photograph, document, recording, or other source of information—which was originally created at or near the time being studied. If created by a person, for example someone telling a story in a letter, it must be someone with direct personal knowledge of the event in question—writing about an accident they were involved in is primary evidence, writing about an accident they had heard about is not.

Jacques, Jean, and Rene Huot families in the TanguaySecondary evidence

Secondary sources is information based on primary sources, but collected/collated/presented at second hand. Academic sources are generally secondary sources. The source may incidentally influence or bias the data through interpretation and selection criteria. An example is the paternity of Joseph St. George (1839), who was baptised twice - as a bastard in 1839, and as legitimate at his parent's wedding in 1846, the priest at the wedding verifying (in marginalia) that after examining the records Joseph was the lawfully born and baptised child in a post-hoc selective interpretation of the facts.

Questionable evidence (Tertiary)

Tertiary sources rely on secondary sources, interpret facts, or have unknown criteria for selection of facts to include, and may rely on deduction and opinion to 'fill in' where facts are not known. They may not disclose the sources of their facts. Basically, tertiary sources are less reliable, but still useful.

Geni.comAncestry.com logoFamilysearch.org

Unreliable evidence (Private sources)

This includes sources which do not use, or do not disclose that they use, any evidence. For non-members of this family tree, this family tree is an unreliable source. This is because our sources are not publicly viewable in situ. In addition, this family tree accepts entries and events which are not reliably sourced, using them to guide further research. Like most family trees on the internet we publish unverified hearsay, family stories, legends and gossip, as well as our reasonably well-documented events. And only members can tell which are which.

Unreliable evidence can help direct genealogy efforts, and can send you down rabbit holes and waste literally years of your life. For this reason you should never use unreliable sources to document events. In fact, unreliable sources are a useful way of identifying research tasks—the event to which they are attached requires better attestation.

In the Our Family GED we have far too many unreliable sources, to go along with far too many utterly unsourced events.


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