In the last two segments of this series, I have been discussing the problem of inheriting a huge genealogy file with a pedigree going back a number of generations. To summarize and repeat some of the issues, I realize that this is not a unique problem with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I run into the problem much more frequently among members of the Church rather than those who are not members. The reason is simple. Many of the families in the Church have two, three or even more generations of “genealogists” who have compiled family history information. When reviewing pedigree after pedigree with members of my Ward, I found that at least three quarters of them had completed lines back 4 or more generations.
The challenge is what to do in those circumstances. If your view of genealogy consists entirely of identifying only the “direct” lines of your ancestors and you lack any interest in pursuing information about any other “collateral” relatives, then you find yourself in the position of being confronted with a filled in pedigree chart. You may well believe that the information is complete and nothing more needs to be done, but then we come to the subject of this particular blog post: crucial errors in pedigrees. A “crucial error” is one that leads you off onto a wrong ancestral line.
I think following the wrong ancestral line happens more often that we would care to admit, but short of redoing our entire pedigree lines, how can we tell if we have gone off the track?
The answer is not as easy as saying go through and look at dates and places, as I have discussed in the past posts. Sometimes the bogus ancestor fits all too nicely into the pedigree. So how do we test to see if we are on the wrong line?
Here’s where we have to get down to the nitty-gritty of background and history. Suppose I start with myself. What degree of certainty do I have that I am really biologically related to my known parents and that the circumstances of my birth have been correctly transmitted to me? Is there ever room for doubt? Well, frankly, yes, there is always room for doubt. But you have to make a judgment call as to whether or not there is any evidence that seems strange or would lead you to doubt the accepted dogma. Now, without doing anything more than using what you already know about each individual, make the same analysis for every ancestor in every one of your ancestral lines. When you get to the point, sooner or later, when you are relying entirely on copied material that you personally haven’t verified, then you have reached the level where you need to do your own research.
This point may be with your parents or some remote ancestor. But my guess is that most people cannot get past this point with their own grandparents unless they have been doing their own family history for a while. If you want to test this statement, simply start asking your friends and family members to name each of their direct line ancestors by their full name (including maiden names) and see how far back you get.
The next step is to go beyond simple recognition. If you want to see if your line is consistent and verified, then start learning about the background of each of the people listed on your pedigree. Can you name them all? Do you remember where they were born? Where they died? What they did as an occupation? Follow this kind of analysis as you go back in time. When you get to the point where you have to start looking up information, you are there! You now know what to do when your genealogy appears to be all done.