Friday, September 13, 2013


Welcome to Family Tree Knots. This is my blog to discuss those tricky genealogy problems I’ve run into either in my own tree or while helping others in their research. But before I delve into those problems I feel that introductions are necessary.

My name is Ken McKinlay and I’ve been researching my own roots for about 14 years. Initially I became interested in my family’s background because I kept hearing about three stories:
  • On the Howe side of the family I was descended from a Loyalist; 
  • A scullery maid on the Mayflower was an ancestor on the Chipman line; 
  • The McKinlays came to Scotland from Ireland. 

Being curious and also a little doubtful about what I was hearing I wanted to find out the “truth”.

In those 14 years I’ve made probably all the usual goofs and mistakes a researcher can do. In the beginning I was just copying other people’s information without checking the sources, sons were marrying their mothers, and having census records associated with ancestors that were dead years before the enumerator visited the household. That consumed 3 years of my research life and I had to throw away two attempts at creating my family tree due to my errors and foul-ups. After that I turned to recording the information within Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and also on Ancestry.

My use of PAF lasted for about 8 years. During that time I was a “Name Collector”. I just followed the data I collected. It didn’t matter that I was recording the brother-in-law of the sister of the husband of my 3rd cousin twice removed. It was a name and I was a collector. My tree grew by leaps and bounds but several years ago I realized that I didn’t know anything about the people I was finding. I had discovered the truth concerning the stories above but I couldn’t really prove it to anyone else ... at least in a coherent way. It was time to change how I did my research.

First, I started to take courses from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies to improve my methodologies. Also I switched from PAF to Legacy Family Tree to record the information and to help me with writing citations (my weakness). Finally, I put aside everything I had learned to date and started from scratch.

You read that right. I tossed out 8 years of work in documenting my family tree. Now I didn’t destroy the documents but I did put aside what I had found.

I started at the beginning and this time I actually read what I had previously found, thought about it, and then recorded the details … those little (but oh so important) details such as occupations, physical appearances and travel. Suddenly those brick walls or “knots” in my tree started to disappear. Also I started to get a glimpse into their lives.

As for the title of the blog being “Family Tree Knots” … they are the parts of the tree where a branch was attached but the only clue that a branch might have existed is that knot.


  1. Welcome to the blogosphere Ken. I look forward to following your blog as you continue your family history exploration.

  2. Great write up. Something only your English teaching Dad would notice: third last paragraph: delete "the", insert "that".