My Family Sources

One of the cardinal rules of genealogy research is to start with yourself and move outward, asking immediate family members what they know and looking at documents kept within your family before you go looking for information others have published (in books) or posted (online).

A handful of important family documents form the framework that underpins my own research. As I try to share some of what I've learned, these sources will come up frequently, so it only makes sense to explain what they are. I'll try to do that here. That way, anybody who wants to know will have some idea of how reliable (or iffy) the information I draw from them might be. I'll also try to explain, as well as I can without overwhelming people, where my sources got their information. Right now, there’s a lot I don’t know about this myself, but I’ll add details as I find them out.

Mother’s side

Mom's Tree

Pencil (mostly) on a large scroll of waxed butcher-paper. Family tree compiled by my mother covering all the ancestors, aunts, uncles, and cousins she was able to trace, mainly by talking and writing letters to members of her family. Updated little since the late 1980s.

Very little of Mom’s research was based on official documents, and there were few surviving family papers for her to consult. However, she worked hard to make sure the information she got from family members was as accurate as possible and to avoid introducing careless errors. She also shared information with other relatives who were researching her family—including the aunt and uncle who compiled the Murray-Kincaid and Ryan-White Trees and the Murray-Ryan Packet. Despite its information gaps (there aren’t many dates, for example), Mom’s Tree covers a huge number of people, and I’ve found few errors.

Murray-Kincaid Tree & Ryan-White Tree 

Computer printouts on two 17”x17” paper scrolls. These two trees—which are essentially descendancy charts—were researched and compiled by my mother’s aunt and uncle (a married couple, one of whom was a sibling of Grand*a Murray). The Murray-Kincaid Tree lists descendants of two pairs of ancestors: Michael Murray m. Maranda Corbin and George Kincaid m. Emma/Louisa Smith. The Ryan-White Tree likewise lists descendants of two couples: Thomas Ryan m. Margaret Gleason and Patrick White m. Catherine Doran. The two trees are united by one marriage: that of Frank Murray and Jennie Ryan (my great-grandparents). My mother has several drafts of both trees. The most recent versions are both dated July 18, 1994. 

The trees are far from perfect, containing numerous small errors (e.g., “Edwin” instead of “Edward,” “Park Island” instead of “Rock Island,” and many dates that are off by a digit or two). These mistakes are distributed unpredictably throughout both trees, meaning virtually every piece of information has to be checked against some other source. But my great-aunt and –uncle talked to people nobody else did, and even in their mistakes you can usually see the outlines of fact. They gathered their information by exchanging letters and phone calls with various relatives and attending family reunions; I don’t think they consulted official records much. They were also, as far as I know, the first people on that side of my mother's family to begin collecting information about the family in any kind of systematic way. I think they started in about the 1950s, and a lot of information would have been lost if not for their efforts. (They also put together the invaluable Murray-Ryan Packet.) I doff my hat.

Murray-Ryan Packet 

This packet of information was put together by my mother’s aunt and uncle (a married couple, one of whom was a sibling of Grand*a Murray). This is the same couple who compiled the Murray-Kincaid and Ryan-White Trees. The packet’s intended audience is their children and grandchildren, though they also sent a photocopy to Grand*a Murray, and Mom scanned the photocopy a couple of years ago. The packet includes family photographs and biographical sketches of several generations of my great-aunt and –uncle’s ancestors, as well as an important letter from my great-grandfather Frank Murray’s sister Maude. As I say, the packet contains information about the ancestors of BOTH my great-aunt and great-uncle, but I have chosen to look only at the half relates to Frank Murray and Jennie Ryan and their ancestors. The information contained in the packet isn't perfect: the sketches are slightly mythologized and a tad inconsistent on occasion. In short, it has similar problems to the Kincaid-Murray and Ryan-White Trees. But it's also full of great anecdotes and comes complete with its own primary sources (a few of them, anyway).

Jennie Ryan Letter

A nine-page, hand-written bio sketch Grand*a Murray wrote of h* mother. It contains information about the Ryan family's move from New York to Washington, Jennie's childhood, life on the farm as Grand*a remembered it, Ryan and Murray property-ownership history, and observations about Jennie's character. It appears that Grand*a sent me the original, but *e also made at least one copy for other descendants. The letter dates to my 7th-grade year: my English teacher assigned us a genealogy project, and Grand*a wrote the sketch to help me out with it. I never thought to ask Grand*a whether *e consulted with any other relatives while writing it. I wouldn't be surprised if *e spoke to the sibling who worked on the Murray-Kincaid and Ryan-White Trees and the Murray-Ryan Packet about it--and *e may also have consulted those documents if a date didn't leap to mind. But my feeling is that Grand*a worked primarily, if not entirely, from h* own memory.

Father’s side

Dad’s Tree

Photocopy on a large paper scroll; original believed to be at my father’s parents’ house (I’ll have to ask). Family tree compiled by my father covering all the ancestors, aunts, uncles, and cousins he was able to trace by looking at family papers and talking and writing letters to members of his family. Updated very little since the late 1980s. 

I haven’t talked to Dad much about the exact sources of his information, though I think that, like my mother, he did little searching for official documents. He did have access to quite a few family papers, however, that he makes reference to from time to time in his tree. Among these resources are many old photographs (some inherited by my grandparents, some borrowed from other relatives). I also know that Dad has corresponded for years with a cousin who is descended from his grandfather Fred Waehlte’s sister Carolyn. That cousin shares an interest in genealogy, is the steward of many family photographs and papers, and has done quite a bit of research into Waehlte parish records back in Germany (even visiting distant cousins there). Much of the information about the early Waehltes in Dad’s Tree comes from that cousin. Dad’s Tree is carefully crafted and has information gaps but few errors.