Week 32: Small – A genealogists rant
You may not want to read this week’s musings. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks.
It’s the small things that matter.
I think the biggest difference between men and women is this: Men are basic. Just basic. There’s not a whole lot of frills. That’s why, ladies, when you ask a fella a question, the answer you get is, “Iunno (I don’t know).” Basic. Women are details. Details, details, details. Yeah. If you don’t got the details, do not talk to a woman. I’ll give you a great example. My friend Joey and I were working out at the gym the other day. Joey says to me, “Hey, man. I’m getting a divorce.” and I said, “Oh, that sucks. Can you spot me?” That was our whole conversation. I understood it, he understood it. So I go home and I tell my wife, I go, “Hey, Joey’s getting a divorce.” “Oh my god! What happenned?” “Iunno.” She said, “What you mean, [makes grunting noise]? Was he cheating on her? Was she cheating on him?” I said, “Again, baby, I don’t know. I’m not holding anything back here. You got a better chance of getting answer out of the dog!” And that’s when it hit me: that’s why dogs don’t talk!Bill Engvall, comedian
People are always saying, don’t sweat the small stuff – look at the bigger picture! But that’s not always possible, nor is it practical. In my opinion it’s the little things, the small details, that make or break a lot of important things. Because it’s the small things that are used to add up and make those important things work. I could give all kinds of examples in a variety of modern real world situations, but this is a genealogy blog, right? So let’s forget about the real world for 10 minutes.
Most people want to build their tree and take it back as far as possible. Early genealogist goals were to trace their line back to Charlemagne. Today’s genealogist want to fit their ancestry into the mold they wish were true (for whatever personal reason). As a result, they gloss over those little details that may prove or disprove their theory (or desires).
Let’s specifically take unsourced, self-published genealogies. I have recently gotten a hold of an impressive compiled genealogy surrounding a single surname study. In the introduction the compiler states that his sources included family bibles, official records, county histories, and the many descendants who submitted information on their own families. Great. He acknowledges that errors are prone to occur in such a large compilation. Great. But…he does not attribute which events are supported by which sources and he (unfortunately) does not proof the assertions submitted to him by others. To be fair, to do these two small things would have been daunting given the volume of information that was compiled. But why is all this a problem?
Someone submitted information that traces this family back to the 16th century Europe. And these ancestor’s events are riddled with small mathamatical issues. One example is, Ancestor 2 (being the son of the earliest claimed ancestor) married Wife 1 in year unknown, then Wife 2 in 1566 when he is 15 years old and she is 19 years old. It hardly seems plausible for a 15 year old to be on his second marriage to a 19 year old. Also, the children attributed to the first marriage are born AFTER the child from the second marriage. Is this a typo where wife 1 and 2 should be swapped? OR are we talking about two men with the same name who married two different women? Did he divorce one of them since they died one year apart – after all the children were born? OR was he a polygamist? No source citation, so no way to validate until the research can be recreated for independent validation.
- 1547 Wife 2 is born
- 1551 Ancestor 2 is born
- 1566 Wife 2 (aged 19) and Ancestor 2 (aged 15) is married
- 1567 Son of Wife 2 and Ancestor 2 is born
- 1567 or 1568 – estimated Wife 1 and Ancestor 2 is married
- 1568 Daughter of Wife 1 and Ancestor 2 is born
- 1572 Son of Wife 1 and Ancestor 2 (aged 21) is born
- 1573 Wife 2 dies
- 1574 Wife 1 dies
- 1575 Ancestor 2 dies
I am not a professional genealogist. But, admittedly, I may have obsessive compulsive disorder. I like my math to work – but I hate math.
I am being hard, I know. The book is cool, it’s neat, it’s something to be proud of – but it is inaccurate. It makes one wonder how many other illogical errors are recorded in this one book. But none of that is important in the bigger picture, is it?
Week 33: Troublemaker – Me
Let’s continue with my snarky-ness for the week. Sigh I want to, but I shouldn’t, because that would be small of me.
Ok, so I am just going to bail on this week – I have wainscoting to put up. Our troublemaker was John Cobe, whom I have already written about – and he’s still at large.
3 thoughts on “Small and Troublemaker”
I think your … disgruntlement is entirely valid! I have come across such practices before (and in my 25+ years of researching have been guilty of promulgating the same bad math I am sure!) and it absolutely grinds my gears. You are not alone!!
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Thank you. My Great Aunt co-published a similar type book on her paternal line. I’ve never validated the data, I just took it at face value and avoided doing my own research. I think these type of books are more about finding all the descendants of a specific ancestor, then add their ancestors as an “isn’t this neat” after-thought. I’m certainly not perfect either, and I should remind myself that more often. I think I was more disappointed because I had been hearing about this book.
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I think its also that frustration of having something billed as an almost grail-like object. The work has already been done! And then you find out that it’s all built on something like sand … and can’t be verified. I think the kindest way to think about it is that more records are available to us now – and available immediately – than the authors had at their disposal!
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