Geography is important in genealogy. Knowing where your ancestors lived at any given times provides context to your family tree. But, people cannot be in two places at the same time.
How is this possible? Online family trees, of course. Through the power of creating one’s own narrative, my relatives manage to be in California and Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island, and Hawaii and Mexico all at the same time. I don’t mean for vacation. People who have connected to my lines have done so by making my people live in two places with different families at the same time. I had no idea my people had mastered time travel (something to add to the individual notes section in my family tree database).
I’ve written about finding a family tree that appears to show some of my Pacheco relatives were bigamists. (Not true!) A researcher has my great grandfather in Massachusetts with one family at the same time he was in Oakland, California with his real wife and children. Quite a feat for a man who was dying from Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy).
Then, I came across this. I got a little bit excited when I saw a family tree sporting my great grandfather, Harry Kenneth Jackson. Harry is a brick wall with concrete poured over the top. You can imagine how excited I was at the possibility of learning about his life prior to his marriage in 1904 in San Francisco.
This researcher had Harry and his wife, Marguerite Jones. And…wait a minute! This looks familiar. I can tell by some of my inputting quirks that this is a copy of my family tree database that I’ve shared with someone.
Though my tree is the basis for this information, something perquacky happened on the Dolan line. They have my 4th great grandmother, Catherine (Dolan) Kelly listed, however, something doesn’t sit right. They’ve given her a brother that I never heard of and who lived in Canada. They have Catherine making a side trip to Rhode Island where she has children that are not in my tree with a man who is not my 4th great grandfather. I read the attached documentation and none of it matches my research or implies connections to my ancestry.
Without going into detail, I believe this is someone I have a DNA match with, but we have not figured out our connection. I’m going to guess that the person used DNA generational suggestions and found documentation to fit.
Looking over the data, there simply isn’t enough information to attach Catherine and the Canadian brother to the same tree. The Rhode Island information is flat out wrong. When Martin and Catherine left Massachusetts for California, they left the East Coast for good. Even if they made a stop in Rhode Island, records show they were in San Francisco having kids and running boardinghouses when the Rhode Island settlement was supposed to have occurred.
I keep coming across examples of my people in online family trees in the wrong places at the wrong time. It is peculiar because these trees almost always have the accurate information alongside the inaccurate information. They have the person living in two places at the same time without the benefit of modern means of transportation. Hence, time travel.
How does this happen? Is it because many online family tree programs make suggestions from the record collections on those websites and people assume these suggestions must be true? Is it lack of analysis? Is it just shoddy research or no research at all?
We all need to analyze and verify the documents that we find.
We must be critical. We have to ask these questions:
- Do the names match?
- Is this the right locality?
- If it is a new locality, could this person really have been in this place at this time?
- Are all the children accounted for?
- Does the spouse’s name match?
- Are their too many wives or husbands at one time?
- Given the time period and length of time it took to travel from one place to another, could the couple have lived in all these places within this time frame?
- Could they really have had two children in two cities in a matter of months?
Most importantly, In the examples that I’ve given, it seems the person forgot to ask one crucial question when analyzing documents:
Is the information I’ve found on this person plausible?
Genealogy isn’t just collecting documents and ancestors. It’s about making sure the information you find is for the right people. If it doesn’t sound plausible, it probably did not happen. Making the documentation fit your family tree just doesn’t make sense.
4 thoughts on “Your Ancestors Can’t be in Two Places at the Same Time”
When I first started using an online family tree builder, I mistakenly believed that whatever others had put in their family trees was true. I did just what you said: If the web site suggested a connection, and the names and such appeared to fit, I added the individual and information. Only two or three weeks in did I realize what a fool I had been.
I had to scrap that tree and start all over, doing everything I could to track down information. It’s especially difficult since one of my main lines is an extremely common surname. People of a given generation tend to have similar first names too. Quite often, I will find whole families with similar names. The parents have the same two first names the family in my tree has. And several children have similar ages and names. Then there’s the problem of misspelled names. I have a lot of bits of information saved against the day I can verify or discount once and for all that this or that record is or is not one of mine.
Kathryn, Thanks for you comments! When I started researching there were no online trees (there weren’t even websites). However, I made similar errors. For instance, I thought people with the same surnames from the same place must be related. I think we all have to work through our misconceptions as we figure out how to do this genealogy thing.
Then, when people started to post their family trees to the web, I thought “Wow! Fantastic! Now I don’t have to research this line.” Like you, I learned that people make mistakes and you have to verify what you find.
I do think the suggested records on websites can be deceptive. One has to carefully sort through them to make sure they are real matches.
I read your post from a few years back related to Cosma/Da Camara with some interest. Maria Da Camara (daughter of Cosma Jacinto Da Camara) and Joaquina Roza Machado) was my great grandmother and married a gentleman named Manuel Medeiros. I came across the same confounding names in the records as we had always been my greatgrandmothers last name was Cosma..but we have several generations of ancestors that just have the name Da Camara without the Cosma. Very confusing The Medeiros side is putting together a family tree but I have had difficulty identifying someone to contact on the Da Camara/Cosma side. Do you have a family tree of the descendents of Da Camara side? I can share with you records that were scanned and sent to me by one of few remaining cousins of my Dad’s generation.
Thanks so much for commenting and contacting me, Richard! The Da Camara was Jacinto da Camara and is Cosma. I know, confusing! We’ll sort all this out in email.