The Dusty Genealogist
Are These Your Ancestors?
People participate in the hobby of genealogy for many reasons and in many ways with varying abilities, a diverse variety of skill sets, and, most generally, with enthusiasm. There are some reluctant genealogists but they become excited when they find information on their first ancestor. After all, they have come with you on enough genealogical adventures that they might as well get into the game.
That (usually) leaves us with lots of genealogical information about ancestral lines which may or may not be your ancestor. Instead of becoming frustrated that someone has the wrong ancestor in your line, relax. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath. Understand that ultimately, genealogy is like the old Dragnet television show. You always want “just the facts.”
Whether you are a highly skilled genealogist or a beginner, the only real way to identify your specific line is to prove the lineage. With the dreaded words of my old professor, “document, document, document!” You have to show with documented evidence that these people are in your line. This means getting a copy of the actual proving document and not just a reference that the document is in some collection that may be recorded somewhere or saved in a cloud elsewhere.
If you find a reference to a proving document, make a copy of it. Print it from the computer, get a copy from the government agency holding the document and get a tangible document that you can hold in your hands, not just a reference number. Use the resources that you have on hand. Be the bloodhound that sniffs around to make sure that this person is your ancestor. This isn’t just a reference that a person with the name you are looking for is actually the person you think they are.
In current times, information is only as good as the proof. Think of genealogy three decades from now. Genealogists won’t just say they found a person with the same name; they will have released social security numbers too. But how much identity fraud will have gone on during this time to muddy the waters of who’s who? Identity fraud isn’t just about today’s adults. Identity fraud is more likely linked with the children of all the identity fraud victims of today. It’s easier to steal the identity of a baby with a social security number than an adult who already has credit to muddy the waters. Identity fraud criminals have 18 years to use the identity of a child before anyone notices. So, three decades from now, genealogy will be more complicated in some ways and less complicated in others.
This is the importance of truthful, first person genealogy. Whether an expert or beginner, you need to include what you know. Many genealogists struggle with adoptions. There are groups that address helping people find proof of who were their parents. Understandably, people do things to save face, not be embarrassed, and not have some type of perceived stigma attached to their actions. Some family members change, shorten, and/or Americanize their names. If you have personal knowledge of a relative of your family making changes to their name, address it in your personal genealogy. If you aren’t sure (e.g., you don’t have proof and just have a rumor of information), include the fact that you aren’t sure, but you think so because of the following information.
It’s okay not to be accurate. I know this is blasphemy; heretical notions presented. But the facts are that without proof, all genealogy is subject to question. The proof is then subject to scrutiny for specific details of reliability. Written genealogy is a hint. Whether beginner or expert genealogist, you present the facts as you believe them to be. Is it all that important to be so specific about genealogy that you want DNA testing which may or may not be proof positive?
It depends on the reason you are accumulating genealogical facts. If it is a medical issue or a legal issue, genealogists have to be that specific. If not, don’t drive yourself crazy. Also, don’t give up on finding an ancestor that you have a nagging suspicion is yours. There is a reason for your suspicions even if you can’t articulate why you have a suspicion. Stick to your guns. It may take twenty years to find your answer or your answer may just pop up on a computer screen, or a newspaper article, or in someone’s obituary. Your answer may appear on the page that you may have read one hundred times before.
Lineage societies force you to provide proof that your ancestor belonged to that group. It’s not a matter of snobbery; it’s just a matter of asking you to be very specific about your family’s relationships and ability to belong to that particular group. If you want to belong, you need to prove your relationship to an ancestor who belongs to that group or activity. This research causes you to be very specific about your thinking in genealogy.
Genealogists think in terms of “this is me.” I know that this is my mother and father, because I have an official government birth certificate that says my name, my birth date, a witness, and the names, date of birth, and nationality of both of my parents. Then there is a birth announcement in the paper and information for a religious ordinance, like christening or baptism. There may be statements as to an address that can be cross referenced with the church’s records, census, and tax records. Now you can prove you are you since you have copies of these records in your hands. Next, do the same for each parent. Intertwine the proofs. Think of it as a circle of proof, not just a straight line of proof.
The wonders of computers and public records are so astonishing. Many genealogists remember when a person was looking for a record for proof; it cost them up to $30 for each record or they paid by the page. Many other genealogists were the reason some of these records actually, specifically exist. They are the people that entered data into computers. They were volunteers. They had hundreds or thousands of records to enter. There were no smart phones that could capture a picture of a record and upload it to the computer. Information was entered by hand. Each name and each piece of information was entered one key stroke at a time.
If you seek proof of lineage, look on FamilySearch, Ancestry, or other genealogical sites and specifically search out documents that prove your information. Don’t just list names on family trees. Attach the documents of proof. Then, make a hard copy for those of us who like the tactile feeling of paper. Take a photo of your proof document on your smart phone and upload the document to your genealogical computer files. Compile your family tree with the attached accumulated proofs on your computer. Make copies of your ancestry, with lineage proofs, on disk drives, stick drives, or other such devices and give them for the holidays to all of your relatives. Upload them to the cloud or save them elsewhere. Make a copy for the cemetery where your ancestors are buried. Make a copy for the local historical society. You have done the work; now it’s the time to share the fruits of your labors. You may even want to join one of the thousands of lineage societies.
Holidays are the time to talk of ancestors and loved ones who have gone before. Tell family stories. Talk about family traditions. Share information. Laugh and enjoy your family. Your ancestors make you who you are today. Be grateful your ancestors had the temerity and strength to go before you or you wouldn’t exist today!
Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you may add skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘email@example.com’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new genealogy book from this author to be released in 2018.
By Marjory Regan
|A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.|