In “The Step Before We Search For Cousins,” I mentioned that before we tell people to look for cousins, they need to be told, “Prove It.” Now, I don’t mean to be critical of anyone’s campaign to involve more folks into family history and genealogy. I also think there is truth to the desire for some ‘old guard’ genealogist to keep shoddy work to a minimum.
I attempted to point out that without sources, your family tree is fiction and should merely have the name of your favorite fictional character as a relative. I want to stress the “Why” of the emphasis on proof a little more.
Establish the accuracy of the tree.
For LDS family historians In my efforts to help people individually, many of them are LDS. As such, they are looking for relatives who haven’t had their temple work done. There is tremendous pressure to find names to take to the temple. As such, many don’t want to spend their precious time working with individuals who have their temple work done. However, I have to put forth a few caveats.
Don’t assume that if a name has their temple work complete that their work is accurate. I have run into temple work that was done for a relative, but the work was done for the person as a female rather than a male. Had I not found the sources to back up my claim that the gender was incorrect, I would have just added the feminine version of the relative to my tree and say, “the work is done.” I’m pretty sure that relative is glad someone took the time to reexamine the tree and discover he was a he and not a she.
Additionally, I have found tangled relatives. I’ll also admit to mangling relationships myself a time or two. Temple work had been done for folks who were married to entirely different people. Parents were sealed to their children, as their child’s parent. Sometimes the temple work was ‘done’ on behalf of a relative before that person had died because a death date was never sought out. Don’t assume everything on your tree is accurate because you have a temple icon that says no ordinances are needed. It’s worth the effort to determine the accuracy of those names attached to you.
For any historian, regardless of faith For those who are not LDS, accuracy is paramount. Too often trees become tangled because the sources are not consulted. Once sources are consulted and evaluated, the tree branches can be correctly sorted. Granted, when many researchers are working on their own versions of a tree, the family lines may not remain sorted as the inaccurate trees are likely to be perpetuated just as regularly as the corrected family trees. However, the problem is always the lack of sources and erroneous research in genealogy. Accuracy increases as more sources are attached to names on a family tree.
As the quality of family trees increases, the battles over relatives and their relationships should decrease. Ron Tanner revealed in his workshop “FamilySearch Family Tree 2014 and Beyond” that as people wrote discussions and added sources to an individual’s profiles, the number of changes to a person stopped. Some relatives, with many previous changes, had gone untouched for a year.
The fighting amongst researchers can be reduced when sources are attached.
Learn more about your closely related ancestors.
As individuals attach sources to their tree, they will learn something about their ancestors beyond chart information. These people become real, rather than fictional characters.
The record that tells me that my Great Grandfather owned an auto repair shop but later drove ice delivery trucks tells me of the entrepreneurial spirit of Sherman Brown but the loss of a dream. I have no records to tell me the full details behind the change in employment, but I can imagine how deflating it must be to go back to being essentially a day laborer after being your own boss. That’s just one example of the details I have found as I have attached records to the names that were on my tree while I was growing up. At first glance, the work had all been done. Once I dug into the records and made similar discoveries, my relatives often say, “I didn’t know that.” The work really wasn’t all done, because we didn’t know our story. Family history shouldn’t only be about collecting names and establishing relationships. It should be about turning hearts to our fathers by knowing something about the folks on the charts.
Find relatives that have been overlooked
Boldly I declare, “If it’s not sourced, it’s fiction.” I recently trained a feisty gentleman on using FamilySearch.org. He is the type of guy that accepts challenges and wants to find their flaw. First time out of the box, he adds a source to his family tree. Wouldn’t you know it? There was a child listed on a census for a man he was researching that was not on his tree. Silence and shock. He sat there with a jaw dropped looking at the computer. Here was a relative who might have been overlooked had he not looked at the sources.
From this moment on, he has become a true believer that sourcing relatives are critically important. Now, it’s possible that this child on the census record has not been overlooked. More research on this individual needs to be done to establish birth, death, and parentage (was the person actually adopted, a servant with different parents, etc.). One record does not an overlooked relative make. However, the person on that record needs to be explained.
The gentleman might have made a discovery when he could have said, “My work has been done.” (Actually, he did say this before his training.)
Before You Do Descendancy Research
Please don’t buy into the line of thinking that says you’ll quickly find cousins if you just do descendancy research. It’s possible that you’ll discover many who have been overlooked, but it’s equally likely that you won’t. lnstead, start with attaching sources to the trees you are using. If you’re on Ancestry, attach the records to your tree, rather than leaving them unsourced. Anywhere you have a tree online, link the documents.
If you have binders and binders of family research, make sure that a total stranger can look at your pedigree charts and group sheets and know where you found each piece of information on those charts.
If you have a web page with a family tree program for relatives to crawl, list the sources that provided the information on that tree As you’re attaching sources, please don’t only say someone else’s tree! Why? Folks have cited my old trees as their only source, and those trees were SO INACCURATE! Had anyone spent time adding sources (besides my tree) to their family, they would discover, as I did, that I was wrong.
Then You Can Research Descendants
After you have climbed your family tree to their terminal points (the dead ends, the brick walls, the last one on the ancestral line, or the lines there are no records for) attaching sources along the way, then you can start looking for cousins.
Look at the children of your ancestors and see if they are connected to spouses and children. Review the spouses of your uncles and aunts and see if their family (parents or siblings) are linked. If they are related, do they have sources proving their relationships? You’ll be surprised at the names you’ll discover to add to a tree as you add sources along the way. And if you’re LDS, you’ll find the new names to take to the temple.