Five Ways Evidence Can Be Filtered

Genealogy evidence and its use is complicated. Consider these five ways that you can skewer what you discover about your ancestors, leading us all astray:

  1. Passion for genealogy and the wish to be the first to share new connections. Feelings are not facts. Feelings need back-up documentation. The more you are sure that your conclusions are correct, the more careful your documentation. It is possible to document errors. Sensational information creates an emotional response greater than a common story does. If you want a correct and connected genealogy, be sure your documents support the connections.
  2. “Confirmation bias” can be an easy trap–you see what you want to see and only that. If one source confirms what you already think you know, it is easy to accept that answer without searching any further. Inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions are created in this way. Life is full of contradictions and conflicts. The genealogy evidence is often complicated. If there are no conflicts in your evidence, take care.
  3. Watch your math–using multiple databases where the information comes from a variety of sources, often with duplicate entries and events recorded at different dates, it is super easy to combine several persons into one ancestor. The merging of identities may be the most common genealogy error of all–even computers can merge people by matching date, name, age, residence, and any number of other factors. Do the math! Only in Biblical times did persons live to be 150 years old. The normal control is 110 years–but this stretches normal life.
  4. In genealogy, every family member can be taken for an expert. Family traditions and the passing of information from one generation to the next can skewer your connections. Make sure what the record says is what guides your evidence; not what Uncle Pete swore was true. And pile up the evidence from as many sources as you can to support the conclusions you draw. Beware of one source! Check out the expert!
  5. The “lack of conflicting evidence” or there is “no other person in the record” who could be the ancestor as support for the connections you reach. These are two of the most common mistakes in proof. Neither statement proves anything. An unsought tax roll or an unnoticed person in the census or, on the naturalization lists could easily change your proof. No conflict might indicate that someone has already tampered with the evidence–innocently or on purpose.

Take the time to understand the records and what they contain, then search them carefully and thoroughly. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS An article in the Ogden Standard Examiner by Attorney Kent Winward, 31 August 2017 on “Five Ways to Filter Out Fake News” inspired adapting his criteria to genealogy. Creators of fake news, and of erroneous genealogies assume that the reader is dumb or poorly informed. In a world where even students on the school bus know to video problems, brilliance is a given.

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