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Tree Growing

Kircher's Philosophical TreeMy surname, Bumgardner, which comes in a variety of spellings (Bumgarner, Baumgartner, Burgrade (!), Bungarner, Baumgart, and so on) means “Tree Grower” or “Orchard Farmer”. I’ve known this for a long time, and have often taken some delight that my profession, which involves weaving and growing elaborate data structures, is a form of tree growing. I am a virtual tree grower, continuing in the family tradition.

This week I got obsessed with another form of tree growing: genealogy. Since I’m still quite new at this, I thought I’d share my newbie findings, while they are still fresh. If your feelings about genealogy are the same as mine were a month ago, feel free to go about having your life :)

The genealogy thing happened almost by accident. Up till now, I thought of genealogy as a hobby practiced in every family by one or more bookish relatives (the genealogy nuts), kind of like stamp collecting. I knew my Uncle Dave was into it at one time, and I have a Swedish family tree that my Mom acquired a while back from another relative who had the bug. I really didn’t know much about my family. I had never met my grandfather, didn’t know his first name, and couldn’t name my great grandparents. Now, 6 days later, I can name almost all of my 32 third-great-grandparents (and many of my wife’s as well).

It started, innocently enough, with a weekend trip to my Dad’s. He’s getting up there, so I thought I’d collect a little information for posterity. I asked him the name of his father, the one I never met. I got the names of a one or two grand siblings, his mother’s maiden name, and the names of her parents. I wrote that stuff down and took it home with me.

When I got home, I thought I’d start assembling the info into a family tree of sorts. I started googling the names, and found a lot of interesting links behind a paywall at I had checked out this site before, but had never signed up for a membership. It always felt a little bit like a scam to me, like I would pay my $20 bucks, and then I’d find they didn’t really have what I was looking for. But this time, I saw they had a free trial, and I said, “What the heck” and signed up. What I found blew me away.

It seemed that some of my unknown distant 2nd and 3rd cousins had already done a lot of the grunt work. With the few names that I had, I was able to find all my great parents, and then my great-great parents, and my 3rd great parents, and so on. It turns out that once you get 2 or 3 generations back, it gets much easier, because at that point there are a lot more descendants from these folks, and the likelihood that another genealogy nut has already done the work increases. Things get hard again when you get into the 18th and 17th centuries, when there is less record keeping.

John Miles Bumgarner 1827 – 1898I found this pretty cool picture of my great-great grandfather, Miles Bumgarner 1827 – 1898, and learned that he was a confederate soldier (there were a lot of North and South Carolinian farmers in my family). I found that through my grandmother, I am descended from King John Lackland (the bad King John of the Robin Hood stories), which also makes me distantly related to Alex Baldwin, Nelson D. Rockefeller, James Garner (my 5th cousin), and the Avery family on that Netflix show “Making of a Murderer“.

I found my 6th great grandfather, Peter Bumgarner, who immigrated to the colonies from Switzerland in 1719. I can only assume he came from a family of tree growers. More importantly, I found out who likely inserted the “D” into my surname (Miles’s son).

As I got deeper into this, I started reading the excellent blog, GeneaMusings by long-time genealogist Randy Seaver. I learned that expert genealogists can be a little put off by enthusiastic newbs like me, who dive into sites like and start copying data from one another, without thoroughly vetting it. This can cause mistakes to rapidly multiply, greatly outweighing the nuggets of actual truth that hide among the record. I took a closer look and found a number of discrepancies in the massive family tree I had assembled in just a couple days by copying from other newbs. For example, my great-grandmother was born about 10 years after the death of the man I had originally recorded as her father – it turns out her biological father is unknown to me. Similarly, a number of people have confused Malinda “Linny” Keener with Sarah Malinda Keener, who were born within a few years of each other, creating a composite person Sarah Malinda “Linny” Keener — that one took a while to sort out; I had to look at a lot of census records, birth records, marriage licenses, until a more plausible story became evident.

So now, I’m starting from scratch, and rebuilding my tree more carefully, using only historical records. I’ve found the book that Randy recommends, Evidence Explained to be very helpful, and I’m making greater use of FamilySearch a free site provided by the LDS church, which has more rigorous sourcing than and more closely resembles Wikipedia in their attempt to build a grand-unified tree (rather than a massive collection of individual trees that copy from one another, as sites like Ancestry do). I want the information I collect to last, so I’m thinking about ways I can keep it localized, so it doesn’t disappear into the ether when files chapter 11. I have a feeling I’m gonna be making some software tools for my own use, although there is certainly already a lot of stuff out there.

I’m also, almost as a side effect of this hobby, having a lot of email correspondence with my relatives, especially my aunts, many of whom I see or speak with rarely. Its kind of nice to be in more constant contact with my family, and I’m looking forward to meeting some undiscovered 2nd cousins.

Over the past few days I’ve learned a lot, like what a “5th cousin once removed” is. I also learned, or relearned that Government employees often don’t give two shits when it comes to spelling names in census records, marriage licenses and the like! I mean, really, “Burgrade”? Burgrade…

The surnames shared by my 32 3x great grandparents include Atkinson, Avery, Bandy, Beasley, Beatty, Blair, Bumgardner, Chambers, Cunningham, Erwin, Giles, Gilliland, Keener, McCrory, Propst, Setzer, Shaffer, Sloan, Resberg, Shrum and Stomberg. Think you might be a 2nd or 3rd cousin? Drop me a note.

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