How far back can you go back on your family tree? The honest answer

How far back can you go back on your family tree? The honest answer

I have a confession to make. When people ask “how far back can you go on your family tree,” the truth is, not far. Decades of research has taken me back 8 generations, and that’s only on a single line on the maternal side of my family - my 6th great grandparents Owen Finigan and his wife Catherine. The other 254 people that many generations back are blank spots.

My tree only looks robust for the last 200 or so years. You can see it on the EasyGenie 6-generation paper chart I gave to my father as a birthday present for his side of the family. Yet there are still many gaps, each one marking a brick wall I haven’t been able to break through:

how far back can you go on your family tree

Nevertheless, I feel pride when we look at that 6 generation chart. The half-dozen names are reminders of the hard work that’s required to establish familial connections, decade by decade and generation by generation.

I don’t regard the blank spots on the chart as a failure of research. Rather, they represent challenges to overcome. And they are a true joy to dig into.

I think all of us know the exhilaration of breaking through a brick wall, and sharing the findings with family. But every genealogist can appreciate how tall some of those walls can be. Poverty, slavery, war, forced migration, a dearth of paper records, and false clues can lead to seemingly insurmountable obstacles.


Yet every year, millions of family historians are able to expand their trees. Consider the following improvements that take place every year:

Bottom line: Don’t give up hope if your tree looks a little thin, or the brick walls seem too high. Genealogy gets easier as time goes by, and real progress is possible.

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