Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail

Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail

If you haven’t used the “We’re Related” app from Ancestry, you should give it a try. It seems a little silly to begin with, but there’s some value to it (a previous post: We’re Related app is a lot less frivolous than it first appears). But a recent tip from the app seemed to lead me to breaking down a major brick wall, before I realized I was fooled by my own published research.

First, a little background on my brick wall. The Tradewell (it was actually Treadwell prior to ~1840) line is one of the trunks of my family tree growing up. We all have those, the handful of family lines that dominate our history and identity when we’re growing up, despite having 8 Great-Grandparents, the Tradewell line was one I knew a lot about growing up. Its also the line that has a lot of genealogical significance, because my Great-Grandmother Myra (Tradewell) Morse submitted her first DAR application in 1907 and that not only gives me a lot of information on this line, subsequent cousins and relatives who applied attached sworn copies of family bibles to their applications, which preserved a great deal of info that otherwise would be long lost to history.

But Myra’s line ends with her Grandfather, and he is only one of two 3x GGP’s in my line that end so early. James Bennet Tradewell died in my hometown of Racine, WI in 1885, moving here just after 1840 from Schoharie County, NY. The 1830 Census includes an older Rueben Treadwell living in Schohaire County along with two younger Treadwells, Ephriam and James B. In 1840, Rueben is no longer listed but James and and Ephriam are. By 1850, from my research and from census records, there are two men in South East Wisconsin named James and Ephriam Tradewell who were born in New York, and those two names are also not present in New York for the 1850 Census. So even making a guess that Rueben is James and Ephriam’s father, and that James and Ephriam moved to Wisconsin Territory around 1843, I can go no further. I have very little evidence of even those links, and the line beyond Reuben goes dead.

I’ve also done research on the broader Treadwell line, which is largely threaded through Thomas and Edward Treadwell who arrived from England in the 1630’s and their decedents settled mostly in Connecticut and New York. My current working theory is that Jacob Treadwell and Hannah (Trowbridge) Treadwell are the parents of Reuben, but I have no proof whatsoever that this is true.


I created a “Working/Uncertified” for the Tradewell tree, to match these two half into a theoretical whole that I hoped would spawn some “shakey leaf” hints on, and to further my research. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. I still have no clue as to the names of Jacob and Hannah’s children, nor who Reuben’s parents might be, so it’s one big brick wall.

Until, as I was waiting in line at the grocery store and scrolled through my latest We’re Related matches and I see Ben Franklin. When I expanded the link, I almost fell over when I saw Hannah Trowbridge connected to Reuben Tradewell who was in-turn connected to James Bennet Tradewell! I was stunned…this app that links me mostly to celebrities I couldn’t care less about had just broken down one of my top-5 brick walls!!!


I was giddy as I got home, made dinner, begrudgingly hung out with my family, until I was finally free to do a little research. I did a search on Public Trees for Hannah Trowbridge, with her husband’s last name set to Treadwell and I hit pay dirt! Right away I see that all of the children I’d guess were theirs were also listed. I looked at the attached facts, and didn’t see anything that linked the children to the parents, so I decided to review the Ancestry Family Trees to see if the trees that were sourcing this tree had more facts than this.

And that’s when I realized I wasn’t harpooning my white whale today, and wasn’t related to Benjamin Franklin. My Working/Uncertified tree was the source of the link!


The We’re Related app had built a link between myself and our common ancestor using the data available, and it turns out that my test tree was the only link. And since the algorithm doesn’t read the titles of trees, or the description that I attached to the tree, it treated it as a valid, proved link.

I’m starting to re-think my strategy of keeping my Working/Uncertified trees Public. I’m a big supporter of keeping our trees Public, but in this case not only did my strategy fool the app, there are several user trees that now have this link shared as a fact. As time goes on, and these electronic records are shared, and re-shared, and memorialized outside of, I’m afraid I’ve introduced misinformation into this family line.

3 thoughts on “Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail

  1. I agree with keeping “working” trees private. I keep my tree private for both privacy reasons and because that tree remains a “work in progress.” I do not want to be one of those people who spreads misinformation and half-truths on the Internet.

    I did that once, unintentionally, because someone used the unsourced records from my then public tree to propagate their own. Sadly, they continued to make many undocumented genealogical leaps and messed up many others’ trees in the process. I learned my lesson from that episode, and keep my tree private now.

    However, once I confirm and source relatives, I add them to a public tree on and (And I blog about confirmed relatives at, as well.)

    1. I will say that I’ve always been a HUGE supporter of Public trees. Much of my research is built on the work of others and I feel we have a duty to share what we create so other can get the same advantages we’ve received. I have had research taken from my tree, attached to other trees without attribution, and have it presented as their own. But, I’ve since figured out how to tag much of what I share with attributions that can’t be removed, so even as it propagates the original citation survives.

      I’m also a believer in letting people own their own trees, and that we are presented with information that we have to determine if it’s accurate or not each day, and so it’s impossible for me to both share information and ensure it’s sourced properly. And I hope that between what I’ve done to maintain original citations, and trusting people to evaluate sources on their own, I’ve been ok with letting my information out there knowing it might not be used how I’d intended.

      What I’m seeing now, though, with these algorithms it’s much harder to expect the information to be used responsibly and for people to review source information for accuracy. I think I’m going to have make my research trees Private.

      The bad news is that my main tree is largely “Working/Uncertified” because I did about 18 months of research on my tree before I knew what I was doing, so I have a lot of cleanup to do before I can get it setup how I’d like!

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