Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Back to Adam -- Sailing off the edge of the world

The famous "Flat Earth" Flammarion engraving originates with Flammarion's 1888 L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire (p. 163)
The idea that people once generally believed the earth to be flat is a myth. But today, it is almost universally believed and reported in history books, that people in the Middle Ages or before, believed the world to be flat. This is an example of a myth based on a myth. Fortunately, we do not have to borrow the flat earth myth, genealogy is well endowed with its own supply of myths. It is also fortunate that we do not have argue the historicity of people who figure prominently in ancient history. We manage to avoid confronting the reality of the lives of historical figures while maintaining extensive and well-developed myths regarding our connection to these people.

From the perspective of genealogy, there is a well-developed, shorthand method of referring to this type of extended, ancestral myth. We refer to it as the "back to Adam" issue. It is remarkable to me how common it is for genealogists to accept extended pedigrees that have no basis in historical fact. But the issue is much more common than is recognized. The reason for this common occurrence is that there is a propensity among some genealogist to extend their pedigrees past the point where there is a reasonable, supported, historical basis for the connections. As I have observed in posts recently, the point at which a pedigree departs from reality can be even in the first one or two generations.

The question is, why does this departure from reality occur? What is it that impels researchers to add generations to their pedigrees when there are no substantiating records? Why do we, in effect, sail off the edge of the world?

First of all, there is no doubt that extended pedigrees at some point depart from historical reality. It is not uncommon to find specific birth and death dates and time periods when such dates were not recorded for individuals. Unfortunately, this propensity to add unsupported pedigrees is not limited to the extension of a pedigree back to a prominent historical figure, but it also includes adding lists of people who are only connected to an ancestral family by reason of the fact that they share a common surname.

When I first began accumulating family records, I found that one of my ancestors, in investigating her family lines, accumulated substantial records based only on a common surname. I found literally hundreds of names of individuals in family group records that appeared to be related but upon extensive research could never be verified. That same practice is fairly common today, particularly among people who justify adding names to their family files for the purpose of doing LDS temple ordinances. This practice is often referred to as "name extraction" and is justified by an entry in the applicable guidelines that states as follows:
Possible ancestors, meaning individuals who have a probable family relationship that cannot be verified because the records are inadequate, such as those who have the same last name and resided in the same area as your known ancestors. See the Help Center article, "Individuals for whom I can request temple ordinances."
Some researchers extend this license to include entire countries even though there is no justification to conclude that the surnames encountered are related individuals. In this regard, There is further clarification in the following statement:
Pre-1500 Names
Because there is already much duplication, members can submit names of persons who lived before A.D. 1500 only by contacting FamilySearch Support. For contact information, please go to
Note: Please do not perform ordinances for people from the Bible, historical personalities, or those of royal or noble European lineages who were born before A.D. 1500, regardless of your relationship to them. These ordinances are either done or not needed.
My main concern with the wholesale extraction of surname records is that the individuals are not connected to families. In many cases, if subsequent research discovers the individual, even though the individual resides in the records of the Family Tree, there is often no real way to determine if the individual extracted is exactly the same individual as one produced by careful research. This is the same or similar problem in connecting individuals in the International Genealogical Index or IGI to ancestral families.

The key issue is the question of relationship. The general rule is that members should only do ordinances for those to whom they are related. I am very well aware of the arguments on both sides of this issue and I also am well aware of the difficulty in defining a reference to "same area." I merely suggest that this is an area that needs to be more closely examined.

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