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

Friday, June 3, 2022

Is this family history or even history at all?


One of the major issues with the Family Tree is the fact that people can actually contribute information about nearly everyone who ever lived. Of course, this includes famous, infamous, and those who were totally obscure. Recently, my wife and I had an occasion to discuss Sir Francis Drake with a patron of the Family History Library. We noticed that there were a substantial number of changes being made to this one entry. However, this is the case with many entries in the Family Tree,

The interesting thing about Sir Francis Drake from a genealogical standpoint is that he had no documented children. So why do so many people think they need to spend their time adding and correcting information about this one person? From reviewing some of the changes, I can only surmise that these people all believe they are related to Sir Francis simply because they have the same surname. It is also abundantly apparent from looking at the Family Tree that Sir Francis Drake is not the only object of constant change.

Historians commonly believe that Sir Francis Drake was born illegitimately, See Wikipedia: Francis Drake. It is also very commonly observed that his father was a poor tenant farmer and whose Sir Francis' mother most certainly was not a member of the English nobility (as shown in the Family Tree). One source indicates that his father left England after being arraigned for assault and robbery in 1548. 

See Anon. n.d. “Sir Francis Drake | Biography, Routes, Ship, Born, Death, Accomplishments, & Facts | Britannica.” Retrieved June 3, 2022 ( 

In addition, the first source cited in the Family Tree also states that his father was a tenant farmer in Devon, England. 

See Anon. n.d. “Sir Francis Drake.” Retrieved June 3, 2022 (

In the Family Tree, his father has been elevated to the English nobility as the son of Sir John Drake V. despite the lack of any documentary evidence showing a parent/child relationship. 

Surprisingly, one of the sources listed for Sir Francis is a newspaper obituary from the Charleston, South Carolina newspaper, The Evening Post for Monday, February 11, 1985, see

There is also an article cited as a source from The Drake Exploration Society, see Here is a quote from that article. 
The Issue of the Drakes' Descendants
Extensive research has been conducted by society member Susan Jackson on Drake's family tree. Therefore, we are prepared to assist the serious researcher in this area. However, we wish to emphasise our opposition to those claiming to be descended from Sir Francis Drake. Our view is based upon the following facts.
  1. It is impossible for anybody to be descended from Sir Francis Drake. Although he was married twice, he did not produce any children. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever, of any illegitimate issue.
  2. Descent from his brother Thomas could be possible but highly remote. Thomas only fathered two children and the direct male line died out in the 18th century. There are indirect descendants of Thomas via the female line; in England, America and Switzerland. However, the relationship is very distant and tenuous.
  3. Descent from a cousin is not possible. Sir Francis only had two paternal cousins, being John and Robert Drake; both of whom died without issue. The word cousin or kin were very loose terms in Elizabethan England and covered a multitude of relationships. Some of these were very distant.
  4. We are not overtly interested in descent from a 16th century Drake, unless a direct relationship can be proved. A descendant, even from a 16th century Tavistock Drake does not prove an ancestral link to Sir Francis. Therefore, unless substantial contrary evidence emerges, we regret that the direct line of the Drake's of Crowndale died out in the 18th century.

It is abundantly apparent that Sir Francis Drake is not the only object of constant change in the Family Tree despite the fact that his family has no living male descendants which indicates that if your name is Drake, you are not a descendant of Sir Francis. 

This is only one of thousands of examples of irrational changes being made to the Family Tree every day. When will something be done to stop this huge waste of time and effort. 


  1. Any web-based platform, whether Facebook, Twitter, or the FamilySearch Tree, without a means of vetting contributors, is likely to be overrun with uninformed, inaccurate, and in some cases absolutely malicious postings. I contributed to the FamilySearch Tree when it first became possible to link from Legacy Family Tree software. A few months later, a cousin (now deceased) made a number of ridiculous, and un-sourced, changes to the information that I had shared. I no longer even look at the FamilySearch Tree. Why bother?

  2. Only you James Tanner can do such a thorough job of illustrating the major issue with the FamilySearch tree. Thank you again for raising the concern. Many of us who work with the FS tree or counsel others have grave concerns that the accuracy of the FS tree may be in fact declining instead of improving. A statistical spot audit might help determine the changing accuracy of the tree. Somehow our overall level of confidence in the tree needs to increase in order for the original version of the FS tree to be realized.

  3. I agree and wish that there was something we could do to help solve the problem but so far I have had no success. I also do very little updating to FamilySearch. I do still use the site because some of the entries are well sourced and a good place to get started.