Quality or Quantity Genealogy? 3 Sibling Rules I Follow


If you have been doing family history research for any amount of time – that should be an answer that is easy to choose.

But you would be surprised at how many “genealogy types” take great pride in displaying their NUMBERS.

Some examples (NONE of these are mine by the way):

  • “I” have traced my ancestry back to the 15th century
  • “I” have 12,358 people in my family tree
  • “I” have traced my ancestry back to Charlemagne, or the Mayflower, or Genghis Khan, or Adam

Well guess what? I don’t care. Why? Because tracing one’s family history is not a competition. If you want to make it so – go for it.

To me it is all about Quality. I would rather know that my great great grandfather was born in Kolmar (AKA Chodziesen and now Chodziez) on July 2, 1825 and was the first of any of my ancestors to come to America (in 1851 to San Francisco via the steamer ship “New Orleans”) – and that he was a furniture dealer and had several stores on Broadway in Oakland, California and that he and his wife had 9 children, and only 5 girls lived to adulthood. And that he was a very early member of two B’nai B’rith organizations – one in Marysville and the other in Oakland. Etc Etc. It would be nice to know the names and BMD information about his parents and grandparents – but even if I did – how much more than that would I be able to find out? From 18th century newspapers in Germany/Prussia? I doubt it. Unless they were famous there is a one in a billion chance that I would know more than date information and how certain would that information be?

I make sure that I don’t gum up my tree with a bunch of extraneous “stuff.” And I don’t seek additional names just to increase the numbers. I have attempted to discourage “research runaway” by establishing some pretty strict rules for myself regarding collateral lines and “sideways” research, not to mention what I call “downlines.”

These are my rules and I am in no way suggesting that anyone adopt them. But what you should do is consider setting up your own rules to guide you.

So in addition to all my direct line ancestors of course, I have what I call 3 levels – !st, 2nd, and 3rd for sibling research. How deep (both directions) or wide are explained below:

1st Level – Siblings of Parents (my Aunts and Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of parent’s siblings (my aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Siblings and siblings spouses of aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Parents of aunts and uncles by marriage 
  • Grandparents of aunts and uncles by marriage and their children and children’s spouses
  • Only one generation of downline of siblings of spouses of aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Complete downline of all aunts and uncles (first cousins and their children, grandchildren,etc.)

2nd Level – Siblings of Grandparents (my Great Aunts and Great Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of grandparent’s siblings (my great aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Siblings and siblings spouses of great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Parents of great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • No children or downlines from siblings of great aunts and uncles by marriage 
  • Downline of great aunts and uncles children limited to two generations

3rd level – Siblings of Great Grandparents (my Great Great Aunts and Great Great Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of great grandparent’s siblings (my great great aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Parents of great great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • No siblings of great great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Downline of great great aunts and uncles children limited to two generations

Now – there are certainly going to be exceptions, and those tend to be selected subjectively, depending on the situation. And this does not mean that some folks are not researched – the living might be found in order to provide clarity on some of the “selected” folks. But those living folks may not be added to my tree.

So there you have it – if you want to have a better chance at having a quality tree – one way is to limit the number of names that you include and the only way is to set and stick to your own rules.

By the way – I only have 820 names in my Family Tree – and unless someone starts having lots of babies – it won’t get to a thousand any time soon. And there are just a small number who were born in the 1700s – and that’s fine by me.

Quality not Quantity!

Join the Conversation


  1. Kenneth, I often find your blog posts to be the most insightful of those I read, and this is no exception. Although I’ve been researching for some time, I’m still working on sibling lines, including spouses and their family groups, and I sometimes feel the potential quantity of data to be overwhelming and unfocused as I work through FHL microfilms that are expensive to rent and therefore lead to an attempt to wring every bit of info out of them I can. This provides a very helpful mental framework for focusing my research plan.
    As part of my family research in a couple small towns in Italy that uses FHL microfilms, I’ve been going beyond systematic sibling research by gathering information on everyone in the records with three key ancestral surnames up to the 2nd ggrandparents. My purpose is to form a picture of the surname clan within each town. My hypothesis is that everyone with each surname is related, though I can’t yet prove that–and may never prove it with certainty if they don’t come from a single ancestor within the period that the records are available. Your post makes me ponder what rules apply to this research approach, which casts the net wide in order to see what ends up being tied tightly together.
    Thanks again for your thought-provoking posts!

  2. Kenneth, In the beginning, I to thought that the more people I had in my tree the easier it would be to make sure the lines connected. Then after a few years, and to many names I just started using the two oldest children information.. And, feeling somewhat guilty for not listing all the info.. Thanks for sharing the “new way” to getting your tree clean. It would also be so much easier for the next generation to make sense of the tree. I am now sure that I will go and remove some of the names in my trees.

    1. Thanks Debie. I don’t know that I would delete any names after I had spent all the time finding them. These guidelines just help me to keep focused.

  3. I’m not a #s person either, and I believe it’s good to make yourself some general rules as you have done – there’s only so many hours in the day after all – but, as you point out, not to refuse to look at interesting people or situations. In my own family I have mostly common names so I do spend more time on/with siblings, aunts/uncles, ship mates, business partners, etc. in order to find info on my own. And I will be the first to admit, if I find a person I’d really like to learn more about – and if I have any time at all – I’m off researching that one. But this is what makes genealogy fun for me, and I usually learn a lot in the doing.

  4. I try to find out as much as I can about everyone in my tree. Limiting your “down lines” limits your ability to connect with cousins that can add to your research

  5. Many thanks for this post! I volunteer at a regional LDS FamilyHistory Library and the staff constantly gets hit with the mind-numbing “Numbers, Back-to-Dates,Famous People” manta, or “Triple Combination.” If not that, encounter the jaw-clenching bather about “All of my family genealogy was done, proved and published.” Are you kidding me???? Why IS the concept Quality Over Quantity so difficult to graps for the young and mature? Your three levels of research could certainly jump start or at least spark some interest these folks.
    Many thanks again for your post.
    Ima Glaze
    An Additcted Root Digger

  6. My own thoughts are sort of a hybrid amalgamation. The detail I go into decreases with the distance from my straight line ancestry, but I also look as wide afield as I can (recognizing that there may be many false connections, and thus not proliferating those I haven’t conscientiously proved). Why? Because part of my fascination is how we’re all connected to each other. It’s just plain fun to find out, for example, that I can trace a line — granted, with some zigzags — to another member of my genealogical society. Or to find out that my ex-wife, someone who married into my grandmother’s family, and a coworker are each descended from a different one of three brothers. Or to find out that Randy Seaver and I are something on the order of 12th cousins 4 times removed.

    1. Thank you Dave for your comments. Nothing for me is set in stone, but I used to find myself researching the spouse of a “proven” blood relative and their entire family and getting carried away with no plan, which is why I set these up. They are certainly more like guidelines than rules.

  7. Great thinking. I have been considering for years where I should stop on any of a number of lines without ever codifying a procedure.
    I also have a few lines I find just fascinating that become exceptions to any rules I might adopt as far as how far down the line I choose to go. Often I can’t even tell what it is about a particular line that interests me so deeply. I suspect a combination of experiences, geography, relationships to living family members and who knows what else. That being something of a non sequiter, thanks again for a great post.

    1. Thanks Russ! I too have a line or two that I can’t put down so to speak, so my guidelines are not rigid.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *