How to Troubleshoot Empty Branches on Your Family Tree

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Family Tree

Eventually, every family historian is going to hit a roadblock in their genealogical process. Adopted people do not have as many resources available to them as biological families. Even individuals with clear DNA pathways find that completing a family tree can be complicated. Genealogy helps us form an accurate picture of our ancestors and how our family members arrived to where they are today. 

Professional and amateur genealogical resources each have their own merits but relying on free or low-cost resources like Family Search and local libraries are the best places to start for budding family detectives. Paying a professional genealogist gives you access to national databases and the practiced skills of studying family history.


DNA and Mirror Family Trees

In 1990, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was a collaborative and international research program which created the foundation for genetic knowledge.

The Human Genome Project began developing plans and started gathering funding in 1988 by a special committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences set out to determine the sequence of the DNA’s genome, map the gene locations and primary sections of human chromosomes (linkage maps). 


Together with international research facilities and the corporation of countries across the globe the DNA human genome would not be complete. A mirror family tree takes matches from information gathered from DNA tests to provide a snapshot of potential familial matches. 



There are three, primary types of genetic DNA tests:

  • Autosomal and X-DNA
  • Y-DNA
  • mtDNA

Depending on the purpose of the DNA tests and what the results will be used for will determine which genetic testing company will best suit your needs.

DNAWeekly is an independent organization that reviews DNA tests and the labs that conduct them.


Genealogical Proof Standards

There are excellent resources for troubleshooting empty branches of a family tree and many of them are free.

Case studies are very helpful. Typically conducted by professional genealogists who can consistently meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

The GPS requires exhausting research that must be conducted with accurate sources, a solid academic review of all evidence, a thorough rebuttal of conflicting research, and a conclusion that is erudite and in straightforward language.


Case Studies

One of the most famous, professional genealogists is Elizabeth Shown Mills. Her website, Historic Pathways, has many resources and case studies that can help a struggling family historian troubleshoot and find potential, new methods of filling in the empty branches on your family tree.

Elizabeth Shown Mills is well-known for her work with populations that have fewer records like Enslaved people, Native Americans, and other undocumented ancestors.

Case studies are exceptionally helpful for finding clues to fill in the ancestral branches of your family tree. Noting how genealogist tracks down bits and pieces of key information can lead to similar opportunities for any attentive family historian.


Libraries and Microfiche

Local libraries are enriching environments full of information from a range of resources that are freely available. 

Librarians are highly skilled professionals who can help dedicated family historians find potential clues where empty family tree branches can finally be written in.

Newspapers and magazine articles stored on microfiche that further contain precious details about a specific time period.

Missing branches in a family tree can leave the individual with many questions about their identity and their family background.         Moriarty, Dean. ‘Books.’ Pixabay.com. Copyright-free

Occasionally, a tough (genealogical) case requires a professional to actually find the answers to the questions that the family research has about their heritage.                                                                                 


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