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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Expanded Commentary on The Rules of Genealogy: Rule One

I have been referring to the Rules of Genealogy for some time now and I thought it was about time to produce an expanded commentary on each of the existing eleven rules and who knows, I may discover another rule before I am finished with this commentary. Here I go with Rule One.

Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.

This is a surprisingly simply stated rule that has a complex background and application. Rule One has its origin in the almost universal ignorance of history and geography of the practitioners of genealogy. It is also my experience that even those who know both the history and geography consistently make errors based on their failure to apply their own knowledge. It is also interesting that when someone does not know something, they are usually unaware of their lack of knowledge. My comments are not intended to apply to those few genealogists who have an extensive background in history and/or geography and particularly political history. I also do not exclude myself from this category when I do research in an area of the world with which I am unfamiliar.

The crux of this rule is the common practice of identifying people by name and date and ignoring the location of events in their lives. Genealogical research should always (ALWAYS) begin with an identification of the exact location of an event in an ancestor or relative's life. Even though I write about this frequently, I always have the impression that I am trying to wear away a glass wall as amply illustrated by the November 28, 2015 episode of Dr. Who entitled, "Heaven Sent." Dr. Who's wall is made of Azbantium, a mineral 400 times harder than diamond.

Well, just like Dr. Who, I will keep pounding on the wall until I stop writing because of whatever cause.

Unless you happen to believe in the multi-universe theory, everything that happens in our particular timeline is associated with a specific geographic location on this earth. In order for an event to become discoverable through historical/genealogical research, some record has to be made of the event beginning at the time the event occurs. However, let's assume that the event is not immediately reduced to a physical record as can happen with oral histories or recording memories. We can assume, and usually do, that the longer the time between the event and the physical recording of the event, the greater possibility exists that the event is not memorialized accurately. There are a number of different ways that historians and genealogists have expressed these phenomena such as using the terms "primary sources" and "secondary sources."

Using the birth of a baby as the basis of the rule comes from the physical fact that the mother of the baby is always present at the birth. The rule refers to the common issue of finding that children listed with a particular set of parents were born in different places making it highly unlikely that they are actually the children of the mother listed in the family. There is also a reference to the fact that the mother has to be alive when the baby is born or die at about the same time of the birth. The corollary to this rule is that the father does not have to be present when the baby is born and so locating events in a mother's life are inherently more reliable than the location of events in a father's life.

This rule is the first rule of genealogical research because I usually have to point out this fact and repeat the rule on a very regular basis when I am doing research with or for another person. I could examine any extended family tree such as the Family Tree or any other such compilation of user-submitted genealogy and find multiple instances of the violation of this rule in a matter of minutes. I don't usually find too many people who want to take me up on this challenge.


  1. As per rule 1: If this is indeed a lapse of common sense, also don't forget that Rule #1 only applies to blood relatives.
    I look forward to your blog.

    1. Hmm. I am assuming that there are some other kinds of relatives? Does the rule apply to adopted children? Did adopted children have a mother? The rule applies to children and their birth mother. I am sorry if that doesn't seem obvious. If a child is adopted, finding the birth mother may or may not be a challenge. But then there are ten more rules that apply.