Pitfalls of Cutting Your Research Short

22 Feb 2014

The other day I wrote a popular post about the new Genealogy Standards book from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This is very heartening to see. Experienced genealogists  get extremely frustrated with a new breed of researcher.  These are people who think that discussing quality researching is only done by “elitists” who have no interest in the average person. Many of these people use their blogs and other social media to denigrate quality work, saying that a bit of work online will tell you what you need to know about your family.


Genealogy Standards


In addition to being uninformed, these people don’t understand that they are actually undermining their own family history. Instead of gathering their ancestors, they are actually collecting a number of people who are completely unrelated and putting them into their family tree. And this is frustrating to those of us who are trying to help them understand what it takes to confirm that individuals are actually your ancestors.

This week, noted genealogist and author of Evidence Explained, Elizabeth Shown Mills posted on Facebook the perfect example of the problems of doing this “just enough” type of research. She kindly allowed me reproduce her story here:

Six years, I began work on a Georgia R[evolutionary] W[ar] soldier named William Cooksey. At that time, Cooksey researchers had spent 20 years circulating a packet of six pages or so, with *one paragraph* on William. It called him “William Cooksey IV,” gave him a birth place and specific parents in Maryland, took his lineage back to England, assigned him a wife named “Leanna Wesley,” and gave him 5 sons by Leana, plus a daughter (b. 1804) by an unknown second wife.

Today, I have 108 typed pages of abstracts and transcripts on this soldier who could not read or write. There is no shred of evidence that he was from Maryland. His parents remain unproved, although the evidence points to a Georgia-S[outh] C[arolina] couple. His first wife was definitely not “Leanna Wesley.” Only two of the sons attributed to him were actually his. Two daughters by his first wife were totally missed. The second marriage to the “unknown” wife didn’t exist. The 1804 child was actually born to the widowed daughter-in-law whom he eventually took for a wife about 1818-19. And the children he fathered by that last wife had been previously called his grandchildren!

All the wrong stuff was attributed to him because someone had plugged together random scraps of data on “same-name” men and then tried to make sense of the hodgepodge. In the end, his name was about the only accurate fact left from that one paragraph!

Yes, all the complaints we see about too-persnickety genealogists are right in one respect: If we spend so much time on one person, “we want get very far very fast.” So? What’s our object as genealogists? To scramble up a fantasy tree and remain out on a limb for 20+ years, going nowhere because we aren’t working on real people and actual family units?

In the end, real progress is made only when we do the kind of “reasonably exhaustive research” called for by the Genealogical Proof Standard.