Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Let's Start With Common Sense, Logic and Consistency in Genealogy

My one hundred and fifty year old grandmother began having children before she was born and even before she married my 3 year old grandfather. Each of her 15 children was born in a different English county where she lived in regal splendor as her husband was employed as an agricultural worker in the mid-1700s. How about a dose of common sense, logic and consistency before we construct such a ridiculous scenario?

It might not hurt if genealogical researchers knew some basic geography and history also.

If this sounds like the beginning of another genealogical tirade, it is. I just spent the last two days untangling two family lines that had much, much worse than my understated example of an unbelievable conglomeration of impossibility on the Family Tree. The most bothersome aspect of this whole experience is that a modicum of common sense, logic and consistency could have prevented the entire mess for occurring.

I need to start off by stating unequivocally that is the solution not the problem. I often say that I don't do crazy and I don't do stupid, but in the case of genealogy, I end up dealing with both in copious quantities. The only saving aspect of this situation is that the Family Tree finally gives me the tools to sort out this nonsense. The tragedy of the situation is that so many of the users of the Family Tree go blissfully along without even becoming aware of the chaos that lives under the seeming veneer of respectability they inherited from their inconsistent, illogical and senseless relatives. Not to mention the current crop of who apparently never learned north from south or picked up everything they know about England from Harry Potter books.

At one point in time as I worked through the morass, one of my relatives had between twenty and thirty bright red warning icons like this:

That was one person with all this kind of drivel. At this point, I return to my constant theme that Americans don't seem to be learning anything in school. 

I am not just talking about the common same name, same person syndrome, this issue goes much deeper. For example, the problem arises from the simple genealogical fact that in the parishes I was dealing with there were sometimes nearly a hundred people with the same name born within the same four year period of time. In this case, I had to identify the house my relatives lived in and track their occupations carefully so that the carpenter could be differentiated from the groom or wagoneer. Really simple, basic genealogical research that seems to be entirely lost on any of my distant relatives. 

The common solution in the past when looking for a specific ancestor was to create a new family, with new dates and spellings to accommodate the variations in the information from the historical records rather than making an effort to understand what was going on. In the last two days, I have merged more than a hundred copies of the same individuals. Thankfully, the Family Tree lets me sort out all this mess rather than providing a cozy isolation like the other large online family tree programs where each person can wallow in their own inconsistency and build their own imaginary ancestral castle.

Finally, it turned out in one very complex and frustrating tangle, that I wasn't even related to the whole mess I fixed because my own relative was an illegitimate child and his father was not identified and so that whole line floated off into its own obscurity. Apparently none of the dozens of researchers who had tagged on this mess bothered to investigate what the birth record meant when it said that my relative was "base born" and assigned him a father without any supporting documentation. 

If this were an isolated problem, I wouldn't bother with the frustration, but it is pretty generally the case across the board. 

Well it's time to move on to the next equally as frustrating conglomeration. 


  1. What? You mean to say that a child born in the 1640s could not be baptized 300 miles from his birth place, the day after birth?

    Sometimes the nuttiness gives one a chuckle, but mostly not. An awful lot of folks appear to be in the "If I Only Had a Brain" club, together with the upshot of certain computer-algorithm creators.

  2. Amen to your "tirade". I appreciate your comment that FamilySearch is the solution. People don't realize all the tools for research we now have. Maybe if we called the human brain an app it would be used.

  3. Sadly, today too many people are only relying on the Indexed records for their sources. Without viewing the image from the film one would not know the abode or occupation of the father. It can be difficult to determine the correct “John Jones” from of the other hundred living in the same area at the same time naming their children the same names by only using the Indexed record.

  4. It's even worse than just looking at the indexed records. Some people are be taught to not even do that. I was recently at a Family History training session on using the mobile Family Tree app and the instructors were teaching that all hints could be trusted because the computer is so accurate and people should just attach them, adding any "missing" family members the hint provided. When I tried to discuss with him afterwards that a small percentage of hints are not correct, I was told that talking about how to analyze the information in the hint would scare people off. In another session of the class, someone else raised his hand and asked how he would know if the hint was correct, he was told that since the computer had done all the research, he didn't have to worry if it was correct or not but could just attach it.

    1. Your example suggests that we need to critically look at any sources attached to any of our people in the Family Tree and other websites.

  5. It blows me away when one "cherry picks"from someone's tree, thinking it might be their ancestor. Then asked what the souce is, there is none.

    1. It is important to view unsupported entries as tentative.