Pruning the Family Tree

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By Amanda Forson,

Looking at the information passed down by other relatives, there are often pieces of information that do not quite work correctly. For example, when someone was born around 1840, it is less likely that their parents were born in the 1700’s. Connecting proper generations and family members together is important. Sometimes people who are in the same town at the same time may seem to be related, but in reality only have the same last name. Today that would be seen as a random coincidence. Some newer researchers may consider this to be evidence, the further back they research. Unless there is some sort of proof, or a source that states that X person is the daughter of Y, X and Y are not related. The original information is not necessarily wrong, but further evidence is needed to verify what is happening with the family lines.

Researchers may see a family who has lots of information surfacing many times over during research on a particular surname, and it seems so easy to relate the relatives that one has in that area to this person on the assumption of “Same place, same name, must be right.” NO! Please never do this without some sort of evidence stating the relationship as fact. Yes, researching for relationships takes longer, but it is correct. This sort of research usually brings up the correct relatives, and often brings to light long-lost stories of ancestors about whom the family never knew. Occasionally, this research may show how a direct-line ancestor is related to the famous person originally in question. In most cases, knowledge of town history increases while the knowledge of true ancestry takes time and patience to build.

Different sources of starting information often provide such leads. On one line recently worked by the author, it seemed obvious that the previous researcher wanted the family to be related to a locally famous person. The direct-line ancestor, whose parentage was in question, would have been the daughter of a military hero, and related to others who seemed to be of great importance to the previous researcher. The hopeful but inaccurate assumptions of the previous researcher led this searcher into more brick walls than were necessary. After years of trying to verify the information on the family group sheet without any degree of success, the author decided simply to look up what was available for the previously-proven ancestor. An entirely different family came out of the accurate research. This searching pruned a major branch from the family tree. However, the pruning was necessary for accuracy and allowed room for filling in the new family information. Having now checked on the accurate family, information comes to the author on a regular basis that is active and vital for the further progress of the true line.

Holding onto lines that are inaccurate in a family keeps true ancestors from being discovered. The more-accurate the family line, the more often and better the information on the actual family comes to light. It may be hard, but check brick walls for dates that are too far apart to be accurate, dates that lead to the conclusion of children having children before the age of possible reproduction, and places that “seem to come out of nowhere.” Although there are exceptions to this, genealogy usually paints a picture of people who made small moves (i.e. marrying people who lived nearby) and tended to lead lives that made sense concerning dates and places. Most genealogical software points out possible errors when it is run (as was noted in a previous Genealogy in 15 Minutes a Day article) and takes some of the guess work out of finding the ancestors that may not belong to your family, but to someone else’s.

Solving the right family relationships leads to happiness in research and interesting stories to give to descendants–often better than whatever is offered by the published tales of supposedly famous people. If the exploits do not compare, the fact that the people in the story are truly yours makes it worth the search.

Special Note: Thanks to Kathy M. for her feedback received this week concerning the GenTip and Genealogy in 15 Minutes a Day articles. It was very much appreciated.

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