Sunday, June 21, 2015
Are We Really Related?
This morning, I used the Relative Finder program to check to see if I am related to my wife in some way. I showed that I was a 6th cousin, 1 times removed to her father and a 7th cousin, 1 time removed to her mother. Does that make us related? The relationships provided by any program such as Relative Finder is ultimately limited by the accuracy of the data upon which the relationships are calculated. For this reason, many "serious" family historians dismiss the program as a novelty and not a useful tool.
I have been thinking about the Relative Finder program and see that it can be a valuable research tool. What is more interesting to me than the possible relationship, is the fact that the connections come through lines that are actively being researched by both families. It is possible that further research will either confirm or deny any potential 6th or 7th generation relationship. The fact that the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program shows such a relationship is an incentive to involve both my wife's family and my own family in a joint project.
If you think about the way that Relative Finder works, you will begin to realize that the program is far more valuable than merely demonstrating potential and sometimes inaccurate relationships. When I show all relatives, the program, I will see that I have a relationship with those individuals in other groups calculated in the program. In my case for example, I see potential ancestral connections in groups that are well documented. This opens up the possibility that my own ancestral research can expand into the records of that particular group. For example, many of my "relatives" and a few of my direct line ancestors appear in the Joseph Smith Papers, a project of extensive documentary research. Perhaps, some of the issues I have to resolve with my own ancestral lines can be clarified by using that research source.
For this reason alone, Relative Finder goes well beyond the realm of mere interest and novelty to become a serious aid to research. Most of the discussion of the program has centered on the novelty of finding a relationship to a "famous" person. Although many have emphasized the importance of this novel attraction to motivate an interest in family history, those of us who are more involved in family history and doubt the validity of the program need to reassess our attitude towards the program and realize its potential for aiding research. Without the example of Relative Finder's connections to the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, would I think to look in that resource for information about my ancestors?
If we dwell on the assumed inaccuracy of the Relative Finder program will will lose the opportunities presented by its positive benefits.