Friday, November 14, 2014

When Aunt Mable’s Genealogy Is Wrong

After a flood of notes and comments from distant cousins who questionancestors my genealogy postings, it is obvious that not many of them are actually doing genealogy research.  Rather, they have copied erroneous genealogical information found on the Internet and in the possession of family members.

Many of the notes I receive argue that my data is incorrect because their “Aunt Mable” or whomever found information that the truth about our common relative was much different than the data that I have posted.   

When I ask them about the sources for their data, they answer, “Aunt Mable”.  Asking if she had written any sources on the group or pedigree sheets in her genealogy book, invariably, the answer was ‘No”.   The story plays out as you’d expect.  Their full trust was in Aunt Mable who would not lie and that if I knew her, “you would say the same thing”.

When I point to the primary, secondary and circumstantial sources that I’ve included that support my data, they respond, “Someone made a mistake and everyone is copying them.”

I ask if they “think that anyone would copy the data created by someone else and perpetuate the errors”, they always respond, “of course people do that.”

At this point of the conversation, I stop and wait for the light bulb to come on in their minds.  It does fairly frequently but unfortunately, it doesn't in many cases.  When that happens it is necessary to gently break it to them that that is exactly what they have done and that until they have original sources other than the much lauded veracity of Aunt Mable, we really don’t have much to talk about.

Similar issues have surrounded photos that others have posted that don’t actually contain the image of the person in the record.  In most cases, I acquired my ancestral photos from my grandparents and great grandparents along with their hand written names and information on the back of the photo that identify the person(s) in the image.  A lot of the time the photos were of their siblings, aunts, uncles and even grandparents, whom they knew in life. Unfortunately, many newbies assume that any photo they find posted on the Internet is correctly labeled and is therefore a validated photo of their ancestor. Once again, this rationale creates fallacies that are believed and perpetuated across the Internet.

Stories of this nature aren’t new to most researchers.  We’ve been on both sides in these tales, but eventually we finally “got” the concept that we need firm or thoughtfully elucidated proof of our information before it represents valid data in the eyes of others.

Remember to treat folks raising red flags with kindness and patience when you encounter issues like those above.  We may be surprised when their proof is actually ‘better’ than our proof. It happens to all of us. I have been caught by surprise as the person with the incorrect evidence on many occasions, regardless of how well I thought I had proven the facts. It happens to all of us. Some of the revelations hurt.  I have been very attached to my data and the people that I had claimed as ‘mine’ in these situations. Cutting them free to float away was difficult indeed, but it was the correct thing to do.

One error that surfaced involved the loss of thousands of ancestors from my pedigree. Two men were born on the same day to parents with the same names five miles apart in the early 1800’s.  Of course they had the same first names and married women with the same names. Did I expect the issue to be simple? Even most of their children were similarly named.

I had wonderful sources for ‘my’ male ancestor just like the person that called the issue to my attention did for ‘their’ ancestor with the same name.

We met at my house, compared information and then she pulled out the ‘bigger’ source document that proved her point. Bang! Down went the balloon of proven research 'righteousness'. She was right. I was wrong. She gained all of ‘my’ ancestors in that line, while I gained the few ancestors that she had proven in ‘her’ line. She got the man that was well known and revered in his world, while I gained the man who couldn't read or write and worked at menial jobs all of his life. My new ancestors didn’t have any less worth than my ‘lost’ ancestors, but the paucity of recorded events in their lives made them a LOT harder to find and prove.

My new genealogy friend sent me a number of notes that thanked me for all my work on her lineage along with a little nudging to remind me to not try and take them back. That had to bring a smile to her face every time she penned a communique to me.

All of us will eventually encounter problems like this for a variety of good and not so good reasons. We may lose our ancestor, “Daddy Warbucks”, and all of the brag stories that go with him but the truth is that he never was ours from the start. Neither was “Auntie Mame” or “Dagwood” or “Daisy”.

We all have the huge pools of “John’s”, “Mary’s”, “William’s” and “Elizabeth’s” that richly populate our lineal families and the historical records we search to find them. Sometimes we feel that if we discover one more John Brown or Elizabeth Smith in our ancestry, we will pull our hair out. Often, the common Joe's and Sally's are the real treasures in our lineage. Let's keep our hands away from our hair and use that energy to find the nuggets of greatness in all of our ancestors and their families.

It seems counter-intuitive but frequently these wonderful, salt-of-the-earth, common folks had fantastic life stories that will enthrall us if we can throw off our negativity and work to find them. After all, they are our kind of people! Most of us are just as common as most of them.

Often, we are hero's in the eyes of family members and friends, regardless of how common or uncommon we perceive ourselves. We aren't unique in the miscalculation of value and worth of ourselves and others, be it too high or too low. It was just as hard for our ancestors to recognize their own worth in the scales of eternity as it is for us. People were praised for the wrong characteristics and actions then just as they are now. Success and value are measured in the eyes and minds of others, regardless of the perceived quality of the visage that stares back at anyone from the mirror.

Let's claim and praise our ancestors. They've earned it and deserve it. However, at the same time, let's be sure that we are laying our wreaths at the feet of the correct people by proving that they are ours to love and revere.

Posted 14 Nov 2014 by Lee R. Drew on Lineagekeeper’s Genealogy Blog