Thursday, February 9, 2012

Genealogical Lemons

   Have you ever gone down the wrong research path or followed a family line only to find out that there is no relationship?  I have.  I do it on purpose.

   In my research I see a lot of family trees that just stop.  They don’t stop because of a brick wall. They stop because the researcher probably didn’t see the value in continuing that line.  In their defense, these discontinued lines are usually ancillary and not the focus of their research.

   I will argue that every line should be followed as far as possible.  Every time I find a new maternal link, that link is another new surname with a potential to dovetail back into my main lines.  For me it is all about the connections, which is why my genealogy database has over 500,000 people.

   I’ve been reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  Last month I posted about Herman Mudgett.  I’m never going to get through the book because I keep putting it down to research another new name.

   If you are not familiar with the book, it tells two intertwined historical stories.  Larson weaves the history and the people who created the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago with the account of America’s first known serial killer.  The creation of the 1893 World’s Fair was America’s way of outdoing France’s 1889 Exposition Universelle.  One of France’s greatest attractions created for their Exposition was the Eiffel Tower.  At completion in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure for the next 41 years.
For the World’s Fair in Chicago, they needed something better than the Eiffel Tower.  They got the very first Ferris wheel.  Not just any Ferris wheel, this one could carry over 2000 people at a time.  The inventor’s name was George Washington Gale Ferris.

   So, I put down the book because George Washington Gale Ferris sounded like a great name to research.  The Gale name is what attracted me the most.  The Gale family has a lot of ties to Worcester Co. Massachusetts.  How was Ferris related?  Long story short – he wasn’t.  Even though Ferris’ Gale roots didn’t lead where I hoped, I didn’t stop researching.  I looked at every path and another name jumped out – Olmstead.

   Another major name from Larson’s book is Frederick Law Olmstead.  Olmstead was the landscape architect for the 1893 World’s Fair and is also known as the designer of New York’s Central Park.
Were Ferris and Olmstead related?  You betcha.

James Olmstead (1551-1595) & Jane Bristow (1554-1582)
Richard Olmstead & Frances Slany
Richard Olmstead
John Olmstead & Mary Benedict
Daniel Olmstead & Hannah Ketchum
Nathan Olmstead & Millicent Goodrich
Hezekiah Olmstead & Sarah Gale
Sarah Olmstead & Sylvanus Ferris
George Ferris & Martha Hyde
George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896)

James Olmstead (1551-1595) & Jane Bristow (1554-1582)
James Olmstead & Joyce Cornish
Nicholas Olmstead & Sarah Loomis
Joseph Olmstead & Elizabeth Butler
Joseph Olmstead & Hannah Marsh
Jonathan Olmstead & Hannah Meakins
Benjamin Olmstead & Content Pitkin
John Olmstead & Charlotte Hull
Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903)

That makes George and Frederick 7th cousins once removed.  While not a close connection, it is a fun connection.  If you are out today, look at the nearest stranger.  What is the probability that you are related?  Higher than you think.

Whenever possible, I turn genealogical lemons into lemonade.


  1. pretty cool way of thinking.
    always keeping one one open for genealogy practice.

    i already had Millicent Goodrich on my wife's tree as a 3rd cousin 7x removed.