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Family History and You- How to Make Legitimate Connections
Start With the Facts
Every genealogist out there loves the ease and convenience of doing family history online. Why wouldn't you? After all, a few clicks here and there, and you suddenly have a family tree that goes back centuries, right?
It can be a lot of fun, and you can feel as though you have a long line of amazing people you have descended from...kings, queens, emperors!
The facts are often very different, though. A few years ago, I was doing research for my half sisters paternal line. I was getting stuck at the same person all the time, so I set aside my "brick wall" person and focused instead on a different line to work on. I was going through and updating files, and I came across the "brick wall" person again. Typing in the name, I was amazed. I now had the name of a father and mother, siblings, dates of birth and more. It was incredible! I hesitated to add them to the roster of her family members. Something from my history class was nagging at me from the depths of my mind.
A quick trip to a few different sources online agreed with the doubt that I was having. The purported father of her ancestor was the uncle of a king. Married to a Princess. What was the problem? Why was I hesitating? Because he had no issue. (No children) Actually, he did have children. 2 daughters that died very young, before the age of 10. So they had no issue, either.
Start with the barest of facts when you are starting out on your path up and down your family tree. You. List yourself. Your birth city, birth date, siblings, every single thing that you know about yourself. Everywhere that you have lived. Where you have gone to school. Everything that makes you the person that you are. You marriages and if there are any, your divorces. Your children. Their full information. Everything that is them. List it all out. Dates of events if you have them. Everything that makes your children into the person that they are. I once found a picture of an aunt because she was a member of a ladies' sport team and there was a photo along with the names of her parents, the city and state and the year. It was a treasure that I scanned and added to the files.
Facts are items that are solid. Facts are items that you can list a source and verify. Facts are something that you can provide a document for. Anytime that you list something into your family file, if you can verify it, please do. It is great for you, and for the other genealogists that are doing their own research.
Find Out More
I had long heard the story about him. A knight who had served under a king in England. He attended battles that we have read about in history books. He was made a knight of the garter.
Sitting at the knee of my grandmother, I had heard the story of how he lived a remarkable life, full of travel and adventure. Attended by a staff of 12 when he made a trip from England to Ireland, he was more often gone from home than he was home. I listened to these tales before there was internet access in my life.
My grandmother told me his name and she would tell me the long winding string of names from him to me. As I grew older, I could recite them along with her. Family reunions were wonderful because everyone knew the story and the names.
When I made a trip to England, I wanted to go and see where he was laid to rest. To place flowers where he was. To be there next to my family. I looked him up on the internet. There he was. There was the long list of descendants. Every single person I had recited as a child was listed. I actually cried in that moment. I quickly validated my family member by making several checks through reliable sources. Going to England that time was very special to me because I was now going to see family. I will never forget that moment.
I took the time to find out if the story of my family history was true. When I learned it was, it made a lot of other information that I had gathered come to life.
When you get any snippet of information from any family member, write it down. Right then, right there. Write it down. Why? Because things get confusing. Because sometimes family history is family tales and stories and not facts. Because sometimes legacy stories in family have no merit.
Another reason to write everything down is because some family stories are true. Big time true. Like the one I recited from my grandmother. I used to have little snippets of paper in my handbag all the time. I now will make additions to my smart phone and email them to myself right then and there. I will ask all of the questions that I can. I will tell the person (reporter) that I am going to research it for OUR family tree. If they tell me where they heard it from, I will note that as well.
As soon as I can, I will enter the information into my database of facts and foibles and see if I can even research it. Hopefully, there will be a living lead that I can call, a name that I can look up, or a place. Having something to go on is huge, even if that something is tiny.
What About the Easy to Click on Links and Green Leaves?
I love Ancestry. I have been a member for almost as long as they have been online. I love the fact that I have thousands of people in my line. Cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, outlaws, they are all part of who makes me here today. Without some of them, I literally would not be here.
When I see the dancing green leaf on their website, it is pretty exciting. I can go look at other information and if it seems relevant and accurate, with a click of the mouse, I can add that information to my line. That is pretty awesome and super easy to do.
Sometimes, it is too easy to do. With mere clicks, I could have gone all the way back to the year 2BC. That is pretty awesome. Except for the fact that by being a diligent researcher, I was looking at a lot of information that was largely wrong, largely invented and missing entire generations of people. I declined the link and contacted the owner of the family tree that was hosting the information. I explained why the link was incorrect in my opinion. The person with that particular family tree responded with "I appreciate your opinion, but I think it is cool, so I am leaving it up." That was their choice, and mine was to ignore it.
If you see something that you KNOW is an error, send a polite message to the provider of the information. It is then up to them to decide what to do with it. There is no need to be testy or rude.
Other genealogical sites may also have very easy to click on links. Do research before you combine their family tree to yours. You may be adding dud information. By allowing it to have fertile new family trees to graft onto, you are helping no one and you are hindering research rather than furthering it.
We have some Native American in Us.
I have heard this so many times, it is really unbelievable. I was told that by a relative who meant well that my great great grandmother was Native American. "What tribe?" I asked. "Oh, I don't know. But I know that we do. Mama said so." Was the response I got.
This excited me and piqued my interest. To have Native American in my bloodline would not be a surprise, especially with the bloodline that was brought into question. This bloodline moved and traveled a lot, and a lot of it was in the United States. I sent a message to the relative who was attributed to have said it. "Oh, we do have Native American in us. I am sure of it." They replied when I asked them about it. "Through who? What tribe were they a member of? Where did you hear this from?" "I don't know. But I know we are. So you'll have to figure it out. I heard it was through the x line."
Not exactly helpful information at the beginning. In fact, it was rather discouraging. I then thought about the relative that was being offered. I had always been told that she was born in England. All of my files reflected this. A quick online search showed this relative, born in England on the same year that I had listed. There was another person, however that lent a bit of confusion for a little while. Another person with the same name was showing up born in the United States within 2 years of my family member. However, that is where the similarities ended. She was married to a man of a different name, had children that matched none of the children in the family line I was looking at, and finally, she died nearly 30 years after the family member that was a part of my bloodline. The other person also was not any Native American tribal member.
I do not know why we as Americans are sometimes so desperate to be a part of the Native American tribes. Perhaps it is the same drive that makes some people want to be part of royalty, or part of other groups that are thought to have some prestige. Unless you can verify someone being a part of a tribe, you shouldn't continue the tale that you have some Native American in your bloodlines.
If you do discover that you are Native American, or believe yourself to be, there are plenty of resources online to verify your claim. If you are already an active member of a tribe, then of course, add your facts.
When You Cannot Verify Questionable Information
I understand the frustration. To find out that there is a line that you are related to, only to discover that the information you have access to is questionable at best. It goes beyond frustrating. I have actually become angry at someone in the past because they were known to have created forged documents. I railed against them.
This very person is who made me into a better researcher. I now have a file that is full of people that I will occasionally see if any new information has come up from them. I have changed all of people who I cannot ascertain actually existed into "dead or dud" files that I do not link to any of my family trees. In the event that I do have proof that they never existed, I make their last name "Fraudulent" and I explain why in the notes. It is my fervent hope in doing so that other researchers will find the file and remove them from databases that they link family to.