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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A New Rule Added: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited Again

I published the first six Rules of Genealogy back on July 1, 2014. See "Six of the Basic Rules of Genealogy." This short list included the most famous and basic rule of genealogy: "When the baby was born, the mother was there." I added four rules in a post back on August 11, 2017, entitled, "New Rules Added to the old: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited." Summer must be my time for thinking of new rules. You can go back to these two original posts to read about the details of each rule.

Here is a list of those original six rules from 2014:
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
In 2017, I added these four rules:
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in Genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
Well, we now have another rule.

Rule Eleven:
Even a perfect fit can be wrong

The application of this rule takes some time. However, my wife and I have both had occasion recently to find instances of the application of this rule. We have found two people with the same name, born in the same year, with same wife's names, who lived in the same small town, and in my case, who died in the same year. Which one was the right ancestor? What this rule illustrates is that you cannot do too much research. It takes a considerable effort to separate people with the same names and other events in their lives and decide which one is the correct person. There is always a danger in grabbing the first name that seems to fit. But even when you find that the person comes from an appropriate location and has appropriate dates, there is still a measure of uncertainty about historical/genealogical research. You might think of this rule as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Genealogy. 

This rule came to me in the middle of the night. I had to get up and write it down so I wouldn't forget it. I suggest that if you don't know the basic rules of genealogy, you are probably floating around in a lake of information without a paddle. 


  1. Thank you for this new rule. If we have made mistakes because of the "perfect match" we need to be ready to cut that branch off and replace it. I have exactly the same situation you're talking about. Four men name Lewis Green Caddell all living around Hoke's Bluff, Alabama. Most moved to the same small town in Texas. Oh and they are buried in the same cemetery. To make matters worse, apparently, two were married to women named Mary. The question is which one is my Mary. Most of the family historians involved believe it is Mary #1 but there is evidence it's Mary #2. Ugh! The thing is, I think sometimes, people take the first person with the right name that comes up. If that's the wrong Mary, we're researching the wrong maternal line. I still haven't settled this but someday, someday...

  2. My happy dance is much subdued these days since now I know that when I find something I have to ask and prove whether it is related to the right person. This afternoon I experienced an example of the Uncertainty Genealogy Principle. In my database I had a distant relation with not much documentation (bright shiny object). I had a birth name and years of birth and death. I went to Find a Grave and found a memorial - right name, including middle initial, right birth and death years. But she was not in a part of PA that I expected. I looked for her death certificate and found it on Ancestry. Now I have her death certificate, her married name, etc. I know I have the right person because on the death certificate the names of her parents and their birth places match. I also now have the right Find a Grave memorial. Yes - even a perfect can be wrong. Thanks for the reminder.