“Fraudulent or Pretended”–a message for “Get Caught Reading” Day!

“Fraudulent or Pretended,” an editorial that appeared in Family History (Journal of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Vol 22, No. 183 (April 2005): 82-85 answered a question in my mind–how reliable are the pedigrees created in English Heralds’ Visitations?

The editor, Cecil Humphery-Smith, discusses perhaps the most important reason for errors in pedigrees:  “insufficient evidence to prove the relationship” links. Including reliance on parochial, testamentary, and taxation records in the 17th c.

If you search the basic sources for English research that most genealogists search–1) parish registers, allied documents for non-conformists and civil registration; 2) marriage records; 3) censuses and census substitutes; 4) wills and other probate records–this is a start only.  Not the whole enchilada.  And yet, in my experience, too many family trees are based on the parochial category alone!

The land and property records are usually ignored.  Granted, the categories listed above as basic, are the ones that are most readily available in print and online.  The land and property records still repose in archives and record offices.  Some counties like Hampshire, are preparing every-name indexes and careful document descriptions online that enable you to order the documents that apply to your families of interest.

And the vast indexing and digitizing program of the LDS Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City UT Utah, along with commercial and archival partners, has produced billions of digitized names.

What is missing from this equation is a solid base of research skill.  Indexing records is one thing, fitting those documents into support of a family tree quite another.  There is no substitute for experience. Knowledge and skill are gained over time.  The whole concept of Fast and Furious is antithetic to a correct pedigree.

There are political reasons why pedigrees are falsified and pretended:  Parish registers were tampered with and claims to property and title using made-up data were filed.  These inaccuracies were deliberate.  And the rewards, if they got through undetected, great.

Since the bulk of American and English people live on their digital devices, there is absolutely no reason for ignorance.  If you don’t know the answer, the internet does.  So a pedigree going back to 1483 in Boise Idaho, or a woman giving birth at Biblical age, or a father, 150 years of age, bequeathing a plantation to his eldest son display this ignorance.

Humphery-Smith discusses several examples including the Bartlett or Bartellot family of Sussex.  And how the errors were perpetuated in reputable publications, rendering these bad data even more sinister.  They continue in glass renderings in churches, on brasses, garden statuary, and other objects.

Making changes in an “official” record is difficult even today–you need proof first, that the record is wrong and second, that you have the correct data to replace it with.

Is it to be the task of present-day genealogists to correct and document the truth?  Yes.

If not us, then who? Be comforted by the knowledge that even the best of evidence can be incorrect.  And knowing there is an error is a matter of time–when the true record surfaces from the dust of unexamined archives.

Hang in there, fellow genealogists.  Read the literature, especially the periodicals like Family History, where the truth appears first. Today, 1 May 2015, is Get Caught Reading Day!  Your favorite genealogist,  Arlene Eakle  http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Many requests have come in by email and by phone to spend more time on How to Build a Correct Family Tree.  I have a lot of examples and I will share them with you.  One even based on my Dad and the Social Security Death Index. Ugh!  My own Dad! Stay tuned!

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