Saturday, April 25, 2020
A Modern Myth: My Genealogy is Complete and Accurate
For the past 38 years, I have been examining hundreds of thousands of names in pedigrees compiled by thousands of people acting as genealogists and researchers. I have yet to ever find even one completely accurate and consistently source supported family tree. Period. Even heavily documented family trees or pedigrees generally focus on a few selected lines and most are missing documentation for the female lines. For example, my Tanner line has been overwhelmingly documented back to the first direct-line ancestor to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Tanner, b. 1778, d. 1850. John Tanner had three wives, one after another. I am descended from his second wife, Lydia Stewart, b. 1783, d. 1825. Here is all that is known today about Lydia Stewart's family;
Although there are a few entries on family trees that extend this line another generation or so, there is no documentation provided for the extension. This type of entry is commonly referred to as a "brick wall" but it is better denominated an end-of-line.
Lately, some of my grandchildren have kept themselves entertained by searching back through online pedigrees until then reach entries for Adam and Eve. One grandchild found further entries for Neanderthals. When confronted with this kind of idle speculation and myth, I can only shake my head and wonder how many people actually believe that they have documented their pedigree back that far. Once again, these lines ignore women and focus on a single ancestral line.
When someone claims that their genealogy is "complete," they usually mean that they have lost interest in doing any more research and/or are not interested in working on any additional family lines. Making the "complete" statement also indicates that the person is not interested in the descendants of his or her ancestors. Although I am not a fan of fan charts, looking at a fan chart view of your complete family will give you a perspective about how many of your family lines are incomplete.
In making these observations, I am not excluding my own family lines. As I illustrated above, I have lines that end in time periods and places where the information should have been available. I am very much aware of many of my own end-of-line issues.
Why is this believing that your genealogy is complete a problem? Who cares if you believe you have finished your genealogical work? The real issue here is that this belief in the finality of genealogical work influences family members to ignore or lose interest in finding out about their family. I am guessing but for every person who is handed a family surname book who then is inspired to learn more about his or her family, I am certain there are hundreds who simply conclude that the work has all been done and this is despite the low batting average for accuracy in some of these books.
There is a pervasive assumption in the overall genealogical community that providing stories about our ancestors will somehow inspire upcoming generations to do their own family research. On the other hand, I look around me at the number of people who have hefty family history books full of stories who do not have enough interest to even read the books they have on their shelves. Of course, there are a huge number of people who have ancestors who are written about in extensive books and do not know the books exist.
I hope that the next time you pat yourself on the back and think that your genealogy is complete and accurate that you will take another look and decide to do some work on those lines you have been ignoring for years.