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

Friday, October 14, 2016

All Pedigrees End

Why You Can't Trace Your Lineage Back to Adam - James Tanner

Some time ago, we posted this video on the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel. This was actually the first video in our ongoing series of webinars and instructional videos that now numbers 188 and will soon pass 200. It has been extremely interesting to see the impact these videos have had on my own involvement with the BYU Family History Library and on those who have watched the videos. Obviously, our video collection goes back over 2 years, but the webinar series is still quite new. The Family History Library had already begun uploading short instructional videos to the YouTube Channel before I arrived in Provo and almost all of those early videos are still relevant and online. 

The topic of this particular video about tracing your ancestry "back to Adam" has repeatedly come up in conversations with the missionaries and patrons at the library. I have a standing challenge to everyone that given ten or fifteen minutes with your particular pedigree, I can show you where there are serious problems and/or the pedigree effectively ends. I have been taken up on this challenge a couple of times in the last two weeks. 

Here is an example of what I am talking about from the Family Tree. 

In this particular case, the red warning icons from FamilySearch clearly indicate the point at which this particular line effectively ends. Although the names in the line seem to extend the pedigree beyond the entry for "Garrand Morgan" there are, in fact, no supporting documents that carry the line any further back. The person shown as the father, as I have pointed out previously in other posts, labeled as "John Morgan (Doctor) is supposed to have been born in 1734 in Shepherdstown, Berkeley, Virginia, long before either the town or the county were in existence. The land where Shepherdstown now stands was only acquired by its namesake, Thomas Shepherd, in 1734 but the town was not established and granted a charter until 1762. By the way, at that time the town was named Mecklenburg. Notwithstanding these historical events, the next person in the pedigree, Jacob Morgan is also reported to have been born in Shepherdstown in 1723 and he apparently, at least from what is recorded in the Family Tree, had his son John Morgan when he was 11 years old. 

I bring this up again because of the repeated claims by some that they have traced their lineage "back to Adam." Whereas, I find only a very few people who have documented even one line back even six or seven generations and most pedigrees effectively end in no more than 10 to 12 generations even with careful documentation. When I say this, I always have someone try to show me a longer pedigree and it is entirely possible that some do exist, but even with the unified Family Tree, combining the efforts of hundreds of genealogists over a long period of time, such documented genealogies are extremely rare. 

The point here is not to discourage those who have done carefully documented work extending their pedigrees into the dim past, but to indicate that even with careful documentation, those pedigrees do not extend back into prehistory. Even those people who are indignant and insist that they have carefully documented their extensive pedigrees, have to admit that at some point they began to rely on unsubstantiated, published genealogies. 

We all have a lot of work to be done on more of our lines than we will ever be able to document. Let's start focusing on correcting the existing, much more recent, genealogy on the Family Tree and leave the issue of extending lines back into the Middle Ages to those with the research tools to do that work. 


  1. Excellent post that I wish more researchers would follow.

  2. As always, your post is thoughtful and provoking. Great work!!