Is It Time to Prune the Family Tree?

Do you ever feel like your family tree is just too big?  I am in that spot now and am debating the pros and cons of pruning my tree.  Our combined tree, for myself and Charlie’s family, holds over 21,000 relatives!

Why is my tree so large?  I inherited trees from about 7 different family genealogists back in the late 1990’s early 2000’s.  The familiar story of genealogist dies, documentation to the dump and find someone to foist the “compiled family tree” onto.  When I find an obituary, I record the information including the children and spouses.  I really do love newspaper obituaries and having them online.   I get tunnel vision and move “forward down a line” picking up basic information from census records, and keep adding people and then return to task.  And of course, early on I was name gathering as that is what I thought genealogy was all about.  At this point, my tree is just too large to work with.  I am having trouble “ignoring” the unfinished work but need a couple of lifetimes to truly research these relatives they way I feel they should be researched.

What are my genealogy goals?  My genealogy is really about satisfying my own rampant curiosity.  I’m truly hooked.   I just joined DAR for my first patriot (Ruth York Faith)  and would like to pursue DAR/SAR membership for my husband and myself.  Between the two of us I have at least 16 identified patriots and am still digging on other lines.  The patriotic service of some has these patriots have been established.  However, the patriotic service of 11 ancestors hasn’t been submitted to DAR/SAR but they could become recognized patriots if I gather the documentation and submit what I already have!  What is the purpose of having the information if I don’t share it?

Looking at our combined tree it currently contains:

  • 897 direct relatives
  • 2,130 aunts & uncles and their spouses
  • 2,932 1st cousins and spouses
  • 4,202 2nd cousins and spouses
  • 4,319 3rd cousins and spouses
  • 3,043 4th cousins and spouses
  • 1,695 5th cousins and spouses
  • 776 additional cousins and spouses 6th – 8th cousins

My focus for the last 7 or 8 years has been on the directs, aunts & uncles and to the 2nd cousins.  I use the aunts & uncles along with the 2nd cousins to support my research.  I have found our families in different county histories and sometimes having the 2nd cousins has come in handy.

My inclination is to save a copy of my tree as it is today and prune my tree from 3rd cousins onward, or is that from 4th cousins?  I could run descendants lists for each of the 2nd cousins, and paste the report into each of those cousins, then purge the children, grandchildren .. pruning the tree.  This way I’m covered in case I ever lose that saved pre-pruning tree and I would have a more manageable tree, aligned with my research goals.

Why do I feel so guilty?  Share your thoughts and experiences about pruning your family tree!





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6 Responses to Is It Time to Prune the Family Tree?

  1. Mom says:

    I do “two” trees. One of direct descendants, and one “big one.” The direct line leaves out the all the siblings. Otherwise, you’re right, you can make yourself nuts. But direct relatives aren’t useful when you run into brick walls. Sometimes you can find a direct by searching for their sibs or inlaws instead. Sigh! So many dead, so little time!

  2. Stephen says:

    I have over 37,000 people in my tree and it grows everyday. I wouldn’t prune my tree, I just concentrate on the people who are important. My direct ancestors and their siblings. I list cousins too but hardly ever look for them, I add as I find and only when they appear before me. I only research their lives if there is something interesting to research.

  3. Many may say that 3800 people is a relatively small tree as compared to those who have accumulated tens of thousands. The only tree of that size that made sense to me was a fellow genealogist who is keeping a tree for Union Parish, Louisiana. He has about 121,000 individuals and can often provide people with basic family information when they request or when the local paper needs it. I like that idea as most in a rural location are related across time. For my tree, I believe pruning is useful. Save the present tree then prune it down to the direct line with collateral lines that extend out to second cousins and then stop. I like that idea but would enjoy knowing what if any standard exists for defining the relationship for individuals that constitute the direct line (e.g., grandparents).

  4. By the way, is there a function in gendetective that allows you to do just that? Select the relationship and prune beyond. For example, choose to keep second cousins but purge beyond

    • GenDetective says:

      No, GenDetective allows you to ignore (exclude) all relatives of specific relationships, but unfortunately there is no way to remove them from your GEDCOM file.

  5. Pingback: The Family Tree Do Over | GenDetective

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