Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Family Tree

The tree that best exemplifies my family research is the holly tree. No, make that THE holly tree. Not just any holly tree, but the holly tree in my front yard.

We have a much larger and more beautiful holly tree in the back yard. But it’s missing something.

No, that’s not right. The big holly tree is NOT missing anything. And that’s why it doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to my family tree as my research reveals it - because there are lots of gaps in my research.

So the poor holly tree out front is the more apt symbol. The winter before last, during Snowmageddon, the weight of the snow caused one of the three main branches to break off so that one side was left almost completely bare. It looks a bit better now, as though some of the twigs and small branches on the other two sides are trying to bend around and cover the bare branches out of modesty.

But it’s still a lopsided tree, and so is my family tree.

The Front Holly Tree, minus one branch which is flopped over and covered with snow, bottom right

The brick walls are awfully low in my family tree; there are a few really long branches, but for for many lines, “growth” stops with pretty recent ancestors. We’re not supposed to call them “brick walls,” so let’s call them “dead-end branches.”

My biggest dead-end branch is my great-grandmother Susan Elizabeth Smith Bonner Brinlee. I also have four great-great-grandparents who are dead-ends: Hiram Brinlee Senior, Emily Tarrant, George Floyd, and Jerusha Elizabeth Neely. And by the great-great-great-grandparent level, there are two more of those little stub thingies: Samuel Moore and John Finley.

This post turns out to be not just an excuse for milking the tree metaphor for all it’s worth. The listing of dead-end branches is basically an outline for where I want to focus my research. The only family missing in this list are the Lewises. I know my gggg-grandparents in this line - William Lewis and Mary John - but I am more interested in figuring out the list of children of my great-great-great grandparents Elisha Lewis and Rosannah Dalrymple Lewis, as well as the fates of the daughters of William and Mary Lewis: Rachel, Sarah, Mary, and Leah Lewis. You could say that this is a long but skinny branch.

Add a few intriguing gggg-grandparents into the mix, and that’s my research plan for the coming years. With names like Smith, Moore, and Lewis prominent in this list, this is not going to be a piece of cake. Or, to put it in more arboreal terms, it’s going to take one heck of a green thumb to get this tree to grow right. Ever tried to prune a holly tree or clean up the holly leaves that collect on the ground? Those pointy little leaves can be really nasty. But I won’t get discouraged. I want a tall, magnificent tree, covered with a thick mantle of dark green leaves. And lots of those little red berries would be nice, too.

The Lopsided Holly Tree as it appears today

Submitted for the 110th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, sponsored by Jasia’s Creative Gene.


  1. I love your analogy of a dead-end branch. Sounds much easier to break down than a brick wall.

  2. It's amazing what I learn from your blog. I had no idea there was such a thing as a holly tree. I have holly bushes at my house and I am very fond of them (unfortunately they attract spider mites :-( , but a tree? I'm certain I've never seen a holly tree. It sounds interesting though and I like your photo. Another great COG article from Greta! Thanks!

  3. Word bites that I love out of your post: "snowmegeddon," "dead-end branches" (btw, I can't imagine you ever letting a branch dead-end), and my personal favorite, "trying to bend around and cover the bare branches out of modesty." Thanks again.

  4. Really enjoyed your post. LOVED the analogy of a dead branch - sounds much easier to overcome than a brick wall!

  5. Debi - It's funny, but I feel more optimistic about dealing with those dead-end branches....

    Jasia - I sorta think those trees are just reaaaalllly tall holly bushes - maybe that's why the branches are weak!

    Joan - Thank you; if I could have taken a better picture, it really would have shown how some of the bottom branches are bending around - and modesty was the first thing that occurred to me!

    Alice - I'll probably be getting back to regular research next week, and I certainly do hope those dead-end branches start growing!

  6. Loved this post and your ability to find the correct tree in each situation. I was ready for the Carnival until I realized I would need to hire my own gardener to assist in the process!

  7. A late response Greta, but I really enjoyed this post, even though I know nothing about holly trees, coming from the wrong side of the world. The dead end branches also captures those branches on our family tree that fail to thrive or get into some trouble or other. Love it!

  8. Kim - Yeah, that's what I need, a gardener!

    cassmob - Glad you enjoyed this. The main thing that I can say about holly trees is that they are beautiful but have sharp, prickly leaves!