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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thinking about the implications of what we enter in our family trees

In a recent blog post, I cautioned readers to think about the implication of what we enter in our family trees. I got a comment questioning what I meant by that statement. Here is my entire statement:
This is one of my constant pleas: that we, as genealogists, somehow connect what we research to reality. Let's get real, as they say, and spend some time thinking about the implications of what we enter in our family trees.
See Mortality for Genealogists.

The context of my statement was the common practice of entering dates and places without verifying their consistency with both other dates and places and with reality. These are the problems I commonly observe in online family trees:

  • Adding family members based on the names of the people without verifying that dates and places match the other family members. Although it is true and common that people move from one place to another, as we go back in time, we have to take into account the conditions that existed at the time of the events we are recording. For example, in England in the 1700s, absent so very specific circumstances, we cannot expect that a mother would have had children in widely separated locations such as counties that are more than a hundred miles apart. 
  • Assigning dates to family members that are not chronologically or physically possible, such as a child born before a parent or a baby born after the death of a mother. 
  • Adding in parts to names that do not appear in any contemporaneous records. In my own family history, I have several ancestors who have been given Roman numeral designations that do not appear in any contemporaneous record, i.e. Garrard Morgan III. I also find ancestors with middle given names that do not appear in any contemporaneous record. 
The list could go on and on, but I think three examples is enough to illustrate the issue. If we insert a date of birth for a child and fail to note that the date is after the date we have provided for the mother's death, the implication is that either one or both of the dates are wrong or that we have added a child that does not belong in the family. A program such as the Family Tree will sometimes find date inconsistency errors and mark them as unacceptable. But many programs do not check date and place inconsistencies and so even typographical errors often remain undetected and then perpetrated when the entries in the family tree are copied by a careless researcher. 

So, my statement about thinking about the implications of what we are entering into our family trees involves analyzing the data for consistency and reality. 

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