Genealogy Evidence and your Family History

The most difficult task and the one that creates errors on a family tree most often is connecting the generations together. Collecting documents and searching online sites for items that mention your ancestor by name or by family is the easy part.

Not all genealogy records–original or compiled–provide the links needed for proof of ancestry.  As a result, you and I have to depend upon circumstantial proof laced heavily with analysis.

Let’s look at some of the elements at play–

  1. Traditions passed from generation to generation are often vague.  The story may identify a kinship tie to a famous person or family.  Even when named the exact relationship may not be included.
  2. Record categories are usually different–like comparing apples to oranges.  You have census entries with a place shown and deeds which include that place.  The two categories, however, are quite different.  The census , although taken at or near the time your ancestor resided in that locality, includes information which may be given by neighbors new to the area who have no real idea what the truth is. Or the enumerator may guess.  Or the family members themselves may not be able to recall the real information on the spur of the moment. Or…you get the idea.  The deeds are legal documents drafted at the courthouse.  While they are supposed to reflect reality on the ground, they may include property descriptions written down for the time by a clerk who does not understand the property description.  If done well, you can trust the description to match from one property document to another.
  3. Common surnames pose a threat–are all the Davis persons who live in the same town related to each other?  What about the Robinsons?  And the Scotts?  In small communities, these groups of families may become related by blood or marriage, even when they were not originally connected together.  If the census enumerator gets tired of writing the same names over and over–he may use only initials.  And he may choose to lump the Pools with the Petty Pools and P Pools–creating the appearance that the name forms are related–without distinguishing between them.
  4.  Your ancestors are part of moving populations where even 2 years difference in record dates can introduce new players with similar names. You expect people to stay put for a while–and they do not.  Then the whole group–new and old residents alike–move on together following the exact migration route because that is where the roads go!
  5. Key reference works may not be precise.  Imagine reading the footnotes in a major work that gives name of archives where the records are deposited only to discover now, years later, that no one in the archives has any idea where the original records are stashed.  [And worse, I made a running list of documents in 2 Hollinger boxes with three copies of selected documents listing people who lived there at the time. The 2 boxes have disappeared along with the lists–and the only record that they ever existed are my notes and the few copies I made.]

These circumstances, and others not stated, create challenges in genealogy research that keep us all involved.  There are always puzzles to solve and discrepancies to resolve.  And I for one am glad.  The challenges are worth the effort.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Next week Leland and Patty Meitzler’s Christmas Tour convenes in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library.  Already the early birds are gathering–getting started so they can learn the changes that have been made at this enormous library.  Linda Brinkerhoff will come from Vermont to consult with tour members with more than 8 other experts.  And some of these members have been coming for 25 years.

PPS  I have some new tricks ready this year to help tour attendees break their losing streak!  Stay tuned after the Tour is over, I will share what really works.

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