Wednesday, July 5, 2017
The Fan Chart Illusion
The fan chart view of your family tree is an alluring illusion. Blank spaces beckon like goldfields. When you look at a fan chart view of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree, you need to remember one very important detail: The Family Tree is a compilation of over a hundred years of combined genealogical research. Blank spaces mean that all those people for all that time had not been able to find those people represented by the blank spaces. In fact, they couldn't even make up fictitious people to fill in the blanks.
But there is an even more insidious problem with those blank spaces. Many times the generations that go back to the blanks are poorly documented and imaginary and may be wrongly entered. In other cases, the blank spaces represent true end-of-line situations where the available genealogically significant records no longer exist or are still not available. Notwithstanding this reality, the blank spaces do beckon like the sirens call.
From my own personal perspective, those blank spaces represent the need to do a lot of research. Let me use the blank shown above as an example. Here is the landscape view of that same blank space.
If you were lured into looking at this blank space, you would soon find out that David Shepherd, the end of this particular ancestral line, is fairly well documented except for one significant fact: the identity of his parents. None of the documents discovered so far (remember that this means over the past 100 or so years) have shown the identity of his parents. Perhaps part of the problem here is revealed by examining the attached sources.
The key document is his probate file that shows that he was "insolvent" at the time of his death.
These were poor people living in Vermont in the early 1800s. It is possible that future research will finally discover his parents, but the issue here is that intensive research has not been productive so far.
Many genealogical newcomers are lured into this illusion. They begin their research by jumping over generations of their ancestors shown on the family tree and immediately try to find the missing link. As this list of sources for David Shepherd graphically indicates, even concerted and intensive research into a variety of documents may be necessary before there is even a possibility of finding the ancestors.
But wait, there are some different circumstances. What if you really are just beginning? what if your own fan chart is empty? You are still in exactly the same situation. You need to start doing research and find supporting documents for your family. Depending on the location and your family's circumstances, you might have an easy go of it for a while. But do not be surprised when you find that you are stumped and have a blank that you cannot seem to fill. This is the great challenge of genealogy and exactly what keeps me going and doing research day after day.