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.