“But it was published in a book!”

Vita Brevis has posted more than one thousand essays in the last four years, of which I’ve done a few,[1] but I am having a really hard time lately coming up with appropriate and interesting topics for a Vita Brevis post, so I am throwing it out to you readers. What do you want me to write? Questions? Comments?

In the meantime, I recently read a quote from Isaiah Thomas – the eighteenth-century printer, not the basketball player – that I thought was worth thinking about: “But, to my great disappointment, I soon found that people were not to be reasoned out of measures, that they never reasoned themselves into.”

Certainly a lot of truth in that about world politics these days! Also a lot of truth in genealogy. A recent discussion on Facebook is a good illustration. Someone wanted to know if a coat of arms for John Alden that they had found in a book was authentic. Several readers, including myself, assured the writer that there is no such thing, but the discussion kept coming back to the fact that because it was published in a book it had to be true. Since I am not an expert on heraldry, I will only suggest that you read about how arms were awarded here.

[The] discussion kept coming back to the fact that because it was published in a book it had to be true.

This is just a small example of how hard it is to orient newcomers to accurate information about the Mayflower, her passengers and their descendants, especially with the landmark year of 2020 fast approaching. Time and time again, someone begins with the archaic, erroneous, misinterpreted, and just plain made-up information found online, and despite being informed of the correct sources and websites, such as mayflowerhistory.com, persists in not only believing the original version, but then indignantly questions the authority of the responders!

It is especially disheartening to me, after thirty years of association with Mayflower genealogy, that the same canards have to be repeatedly addressed and fought over. I most certainly do not envy the Mayflower historians who will be continuing the battle in the next three years!

But it is not only Mayflower genealogy that has this problem, it is all genealogy, and I can well imagine that newcomers who first found their information via the Internet must be just as tired of being told it isn’t true after all. Genealogy is, indeed, not for the faint of heart!


[1] 145 posts to date, actually! – Ed.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

88 thoughts on ““But it was published in a book!”

  1. In my continuing quest to improve my research skills I have recently adopted the mantra, “Question Everything”. “Proven by Authority” is one I keep running up against lately. Other genealogists keep saying that it was in Savage, Anderson, Ballou, etc., so it must be true. But then you learn even these experts and well-known genealogists make mistakes and publish addendums. Many Family Associations have published genealogies that they have later updated or retracted but their first publications are still seen at the definitive source. This is where a “reasonably exhaustive search” for sources along with understanding what a source is can help clear the muddy waters. Someday, when I get a better handle on defining what an appropriate source is I will be ready to give a presentation I am calling, “Saucy Sources and Savory Citations: A Recipe for Genealogical Success.”

  2. The societies aren’t always right either. I’ve found wrong parents listed in the membership applications; mostly in the 1900 era. I never use them for anything other than a name to research.

    1. Toni, exactly. The problem is systemic and we can only hope that eventually somehow the Internet can be set up as a true clearing house, but I have no idea how that can be done.

    2. This is so true. I have been quarrelling with the DAR for years over the fact that on their ancestor lookup they show my ancestor, not with the mother of his daughter who was his lawful wife, but with the mother of his girlfriend, not even the girlfriend herself, although the girlfriend did bear him several more children. They won’t fix it, despite extensive documentation,
      unless I join and I don’t want to bother.

  3. One of the most egregious examples is Edson J. Carr, The Carr Family Records … (Rockton, Ill.: Herald Printing House, 1894). This book includes a purported diary from a Susan (Rothschild) Carr, describing her family’s emigration from England to the Rhode Island area in 1621, in the company of “Capt. Roger Williams” (who—she states—later abandoned the sea, became a Quaker minister and moved from Salem to Rhode Island to survey and lay out towns). She describes sewing £100 in gold coins into the lining of her clothing, to spend where she does not explain. She writes about the grand time her family had hunting and fishing with the Indians, and what bosom friends they all were. In his Great Migration sketch on Caleb Carr (GM2:2:16), Robert Charles Anderson called The Carr Family Records “highly amusing” and “one of the more outlandish of its genre.” Most of the time these published myths are just frustrating and annoying, but this one really is hilarious!

    1. Patricia, it is good you have a sense of humor! When I was at Mayflower someone submitted what they claimed was William Brewster’s diary from the Mayflower — written in German (with translation). It contained such entries as “Today we signed the Mayflower Compact”! Imagination and hutzpah know no bounds.

      1. I’m so glad you took it humorously! I always check everything, and was curious about what might be new at the Mayflower site. You are wondrous for making the correction so quickly! Cheers to you! <3

        I've posted my (very old) blog which some day I hope to get back to posting again!

    2. Patricia, his “History of Rockton” has been reprinted by our Historical Society, which I’ve used researching the builder of my 1850 limestone house, but the President of our Society always warns “grain of salt…” Carr was the owner of the Herald newspaper, but his own family history is not in this book, which I thought was odd, not knowing he’d done an entire book. I’ll check the village library tomorrow. Which is also a beautiful stone building… we have many!

    3. Patricia – I just recently found out that I am related to the Carr family and I am finding tons of information on Ancestry that you refer to as myth. I have no proof that it is true, but what is your proof that it is a myth? How do I know what is true of this family?

      1. Susan and Patricia, I have 8 separate Carr lines in either my own data or in my husband’s line. Some of the data comes from what appear to be copies of town records but some of the data has been entered merely as hints to suggest additional places to look. Like Susan, I would like to know what the truth really is.

  4. Published in a book says it all . . . perhaps you could write about specific books now and then. I had been using early genealogies to compile a tree and attempted to prove the facts without realizing that at least one of those genealogies is considered at least partially fraudulent because Gustave Anjou was involved in its production. Others, of course, simply contain errors – like claiming Mayflower ancestry when there doesn’t appear to be a connection. I suspect that records at the time were more difficult to obtain and incorrect connections were made.

    1. Sue, primary records were, indeed, more difficult to obtain in the days before photocopies and digitization, but like Gustave Anjou, that often didn’t stop anyone from putting a pedigree together any old way. It looks like I will need a series on this subject.

  5. In my family, we have known we came over on the Mayflower for many generations. After all, the book “Ancestral chronological record of the William White family from 1607/08 to 1895”, said we were descended from Peregrine White, the child born on the Mayflower in Plymouth harbor. Since the book was published in 1895, it had to be true. Some relatives even had “direct descendant of Peregrine White” on their gravestones. Just a few years ago, I decided to flesh out the story and found our belief had been disproved in the 1950’s. Without knowing this, our side of the family had continued to claim the story every year in school when we studied American history and every year told the children at Thanksgiving “we were there”. I had the chore of informing all the cousins none of it was true. At least as far as we were concerned. As one cousin said, “Bye Bye Peregrine”.

    1. Carole, ouch. One can lose almost any other ancestor, but the Mayflower ones hurt probably because they are the only ones anyone else recognizes. Worst part of a Mayflower historian’s job is informing people of “lost” lines. Congratulations to your family on taking it on the chin.

      1. It certainly happened to me. Back in the ’80s I was a young and enthusiastic novice in genealogy, and my mother sent me a file from her grandmother outlining a descent from John Howland of the Mayflower. This came from a shirt-tail cousin surnamed Minturn. When I went digging for more, I learned that Grandma’s ancestors included a Job Fuller who had been confused with another of the same name, and they lived in adjacent colonies: Connecticut for our line, Plymouth, Mass., for the Howland descendants. It felt crushing to lose that heritage, but it was an important lesson learned. Great-Grandma was still alive in her 90s, still believing in such a glorious ancestry. I never told her–didn’t have the heart to.
        Now I look back and refer to it as the “Ancestor overboard!” incident, recalling Howland’s getting swept off the Mayflower but getting rescued. No rescue for that line, but it opened up new paths of research, and I adopted the motto: “A known ancestor is a good ancestor.” –K. W. Rockwell

    2. Carole, I feel your pain! For years my husband’s family touted their direct descent from Pocahontas and shirt-tail relation to Thomas Jefferson, until I researched them and proved that they descended not from the Virginia Randolphs, but from the Quaker FitzRandolphs of New Jersey. Having an in-law dispel a treasured family myth doesn’t always go down well, but the proof was incontrovertible.

  6. Responding to your opening question: I keep asking around about the availability of a website, a model website, or some other (easy) way to set up my family history website. After I publish the family history in hardcopy, I want to put the narrative on line, linked to an interactive family tree. There should be interactive maps and timelines. I want to put lots of pictures on it. All this to garner input from distant cousins and to foster some interest on the part of cellphone-preoccupied Gen-Xers (including my daughter), millennials, and their offspring.

    1. Richard, check out “Second Site” by John Cardinal. It will produce what you want, and allow you to update the information whenever you find new data.

    2. Richard, alas I do not know the answer to that question. My own aborted effort to set up a website, which I’ve discussed on Vita-Brevis in the past, lays fallow mostly because I don’t have the time to learn the technology. On the other hand, finding a service to create and manage a website is expensive and difficult to judge the best way to go about it. At this point my best advice is to ask those Millenials in the family, or perhaps their offspring, for advice!

      1. I have asked two Gen-Xer relatives, experts in creating websites, who promised to help but have not followed through. I am waiting on the millennials to get seasoned so I can ask them.

        1. Have you offered to pay? The relatives may not be interested but they probably have friends who are doing website work as a business — just vet the friends’ work first!

    3. Why not use familysearch’s familytree. It is interactive—i mean it is one tree that is collaborative. I want my data ti be in several places so I have chosen familytree with as much documentation, attached sources, photos attached , stories, explanations of my conclusions etc I can find. It is free so I hope some of my descendants will look at it occasionally.
      I also have a tree on ancestry with dna matches to me. That is for the benefit if a different crowd. I don’t really have time or energy fir much more except to keep those two databases up to date til one of my grandchildren get the bug. I have hope for a 7 yr old grand son who loves to index

  7. Alicia, I feel the frustration. My family has several issues with being led astray by books. Two generations with the same name in the Putnams combined into one person made us feel like orphans because nothing “fit.” Being an addendum in a book on the Monroe family from Connecticut has left us floundering to find the actual line. Then my personal gripe is the family trees which just copy information from anywhere and leave it to be copied on and on correct or not.

    1. Catherine, it’s a never-ending loop. We’ve all been in the position where we’ve corrected one tree online only to have the other 30,000 copies still out there!

  8. OK, I have a subject, that I have not seen on any of the fb groups(genealogy) that I belong to………and that is, the ‘accountings’ or ‘stories’ from the Generals(?) of the different state military companies, regiments. about their Civil War experiences, what they did and etc. I have a story of a Wisconsin army company called the “Marching Twelve”. The original text (huge) is in a Santa Barbara, CA library………A person who knew about it, wanted to copy it…….They allowed her to only ‘by written hand’, copy 10% of the book each time she went…….So, her condensed copy is a treasure……And I also have an accounting of my husband’s g grandfather’s company in the service…..now, with your knowledge of research, there has to be some document that was distributed to all the leaders of the different military outfits to write and hand in their story about the Civil War. And there are many of these accountings(books) out there……..many of them…….why has not this been mentioned. And especially with ‘Fold 3’ being digitized.

    p.s. The writings of these accountings are exemplary in their form, at least, the two that I have read. There seemed to have been a deadline for the return of these war experiences, for one mentioned of almost not being written. I would put this time frame anywheres from 1875 to 1885, give or take a few years…This would be a treasure trove about one’s ancestor who served in the war. It personifies it.

    1. Mary, a good topic idea. I can tell you that there was no standardized document distributed to the military leaders, but it was a popular retirement pastime for the higher ranks to write memoirs, and each unit usually had a person who acted as the “historian” and gathered the information. There are many historical and genealogical societies that specialize in the Civil War and I will see what I can put together.

  9. Alicia – I think this is right up your alley. When Susan H. Moore, in “Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home” wrote of the ‘outswarming’ of colonists from Watertown to start the Nashaway Plantation that rang a bell with my research – could those in Charlestown, Watertown and nearby – including Wilder, Dunster and Gould been neighbors in the early 1600s. I realize Thomas Wyelder did not move with family to Lawrence, MA until 1659, but I get the feeling that neighbors moved out of the Boston area to settlements west outside Boston. I can feel myself trying to sense neighbors working re anabaptism [before any Baptist Church was formed]. I am the one frustrated by not knowing the ship Thomas Wyelder-Wilder came over, perhaps from Lancashire to Charlestown.

    1. Ann, thanks for the idea. This question, of course, is a basic part of the Great Migration and Early Families studies. Bob Anderson’s work has confirmed the high relationships, familial, church, geographic, of the New England settlers. His upcoming book on Puritan Pedigrees will deal with that type of thing. My Early Families studies, although still infinitesimal in comparison, are showing me how groups moved after they arrived and family is one of the strongest bonds.

      1. I have several CT and MA Colonial Ancestors. It appears to me that there was some kind of migration along the Connecticut River; New Haven, Windsor, Suffield, Springfield, Northampton. Can you shed any light on this for me?

      1. Virginia, yes, at the time it was a wilderness settlement in Andover. My ancestors came to Lawrence in 1890 from Halifax, England, to work in the mills.

        1. Hello,
          I have a relative, Martin Connors Sr who immigrated to Lawrence, MA in 1890 from Ireland.
          I found his Aug 1897 marriage record to Margaret Curran on American Ancestors.
          I have them living in Lawrence on the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and on the 1940 census Martin is widowed.
          I can’t find either of their deaths, do you have any suggestions?

  10. Your article reminds me of “The Denman Book” that purports to attach the Denmans (my great great grandmother’s family) to the Stewart monarchies of England. But there are a couple of generations missing in this book (and the author freely admits it), so in my quest for the truth, I have to look with some suspicion on the author’s conclusions. But in writing up the family history, I do cite the book with an explanation of the problems I ran into. That’s how I wind up with 300 footnotes in a paper. And other Denman genealogies follow the same well trod path, even a book by a professor at U Texas who should know better. And maybe some of this stuff we’ll never know. And I do have a lot of problems with genealogies published on-line as well.

    1. Paul, dealing with an old surname genealogy that purports to trace English or Royal ancestry is fraught with danger because when they were written it was pretty much “anything goes” regarding what they chose to publish. The reason why you’ve had such a hard time confirming the Denman book is because the information was never based on research in the first place — and in some cases was based on fraudulent “genealogists” just out for the money that a Royal line could bring. My recommendation to everyone is to stop writing when you run out of evidence and leave the rest. It is usually not even worth the effort to try to refute it.

  11. I feel that it would be helpful if you could do some posts on those “books” that have the greatest number of errors. Each time that something comes out to promote good genealogical research there are hundreds, or thousands, of books that come out filled with information that are might have a kernel of truth interspersed with commentary filled with false information that have been put in to make the author “feel better” about their own line by claiming that they are related to a famous person or a famous family. I am sure that they did not see the information as a lie, or even a fabrication, but their feelings. Feelings do not make something into truth however. While there may be some truth in family stories, our ancestors real lives are far more interesting than the stories.

    In my own case there had been several different stories about an ancestor who had been shown in the 1850 census, but in 1854 he was listed as “the late” in a child’s obituary. About two years ago I found a couple of stories that had been published in New York City newspapers in late 1852 and early 1853 giving details about how the man had been swept overboard during a storm in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of weeks earlier from a certain underway ship. Finally the truth was found for his modern day descendants. His wife and immediate family undoubtedly knew the truth soon after it happened, but it had not been recorded in the area where he had lived and used as a home port.

    Soon after beginning my own journey I stumbled across the Cutter series, not realizing that the “author” had gone to an area asking those that were then prominent to tell the stories of their own families. There were even volumes that had drastically different “stories” for what were claimed to be the same people.

    My experiences have taught be that about the only thing that can be relied on as a truth was a birth certificate recorded soon after a birth for a child at home when the child had NOT been adopted. And that only really recorded the mother, even when a father was listed. My own mother was born shortly before midnight, as the first child, while her father was off getting the doctor. They didn’t get back until after midnight, so my mother’s legal birth date was actually put on her birth certificate as the date that the doctor arrived. Her own mother’s version of the birth date was not accepted by the people that issued the birth certificate.

    1. PJ, the list of books with the greatest number of errors exceeds anyone’s ability to list, but it would be a useful thing to make a list of things to look for when trying to judge a book, or Internet tree. I will work on that.

      1. These might be of interest:
        “Recognizing Scholarly Genealogy and Its Importance To Genealogists and Historians” by Harry Macy, Jr. in NEHGR, vol. 150, no. 1 (Jan 1996), pp. 7-28,

        New Englanders in the 1600s: A Guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2010, Expanded Edition (2012) by Martin E. Hollick. He also cites reviews of the books cited.

        As far as judging internet trees or websites, I used to have some “tells”.
        Eg. If the maiden name of the mother of Tristram Coffin was shown to be Thember (instead of Kember) I knew they had merely copied an error made long ago and had not accessed the original records (or a work that had done so).
        Or, if a New Netherland site claimed Annke Jans was the grand daughter of William the Silent, I avoided the whole site.

  12. I have some comments in response to an excerpt from above…

    “Time and time again, someone begins with the archaic, erroneous, misinterpreted, and just plain made-up information found online, and despite being informed of the correct sources and websites, such as mayflowerhistory.org, persists in not only believing the original version, but then indignantly questions the authority of the responders!”

    Recently, I attempted to perform some “Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness” by updating entries for various ancestors at wiki-based sites like FamilySearch, WikiTree, etc. with additions and corrections derived from the most recent and scholarly published research available. For anything potentially controversial, I cite my sources and use verbatim excerpts to emphasize that what a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists published within the last 20 or 30 years should supersede what an amateur family historian published in the 1800s or early 1900s.

    Multiple times, others have quite deliberately undone my changes and referred back to the older secondary sources! It is so frustrating that anyone would want to continuing “barking up the wrong [family] tree,“ presumably in order to claim a false line of descent from some famous/infamous ancestor. Regardless of the (sometimes self-inflicted) pain necessitated by “pruning” the family tree, I will always choose facts over fiction!

    1. Perry, I also find that no good deed goes unpunished when trying to fix Internet errors. I once posted about the unproved “royal” line for Richard Warren only to be aggressively resisted by the writer who wanted to know, in essence, “Who are you and why should I give up my royal line just because you say so.”

  13. Alicia, First thanks for your posts. I’ve learned a lot and appreciate the time it takes to put your blogs together. I would love to hear your thinking on some of the following topics:
    1. How to treat your records for the information you have uncovered about the “family secret”, especially if you know the secret will cause family members pain. Do you post it in your online family tree (and therefore make it public to anyone who is looking)? Do you put it in your desktop software, but not online (and not syncing)? Do you put it in the family “book”, or make two books (one with the knowledge, one without)? Do you wait until those who were most involved have passed?
    2. What do you do with the collections your ancestors have passed on to you? For example, my mother’s 100+ plate collection (not the expensive kind, the Bradford mint kind). She always displayed them. My great-aunt’s dishes from Japan that need to be hand-washed, my second cousin’s Snow Babies etc. How to honor the objects they loved without overwhelming my house with too much “stuff”. I treasure my mother’s and grandmother’s hand made textiles, I’m wondering about more commercially available artifacts. A related question (my daughter and I disagree about this), do you use your inherited items (quilts, dishes etc) or put them away to preserve them.
    3. How far do you go in writing an ancestor profile adding historic context and “color” without turning the profile in to fiction? Can you discuss how to decide what to include about history?
    4. What do you do when you get tired? Tired of seeing the same hints on Ancestry, tired of sorting multiple copies of the same photo etc.. Overwhelmed by all of the work still ahead (and realizing life’s clock is ticking). How do you re-energize?
    5. Do you have a favorite ancestor? Why? Do you have one who seems to be hiding? Can you discuss the point when the dry records animate and your ancestors seem to be standing over your shoulder saying “my turn”.

      1. Hello Alicia (and Kathy),
        Kathy has made a great list! I vote for her 1 through 5 topics. With a special vote for 1. We’ve all got a problem relative, but how do we deal with a serious criminal, especially when some family members want truth and some would be shattered by it.
        The best help i get from V. B. is when one of you writes about untangling a specific conundrum, and how you did that. Always interesting and always gives me an ‘aha’ moment.
        As a reader, i don’t care if you just write whatever you happen to be thinking about – your posts are always enjoyable.

  14. As one of those Mayflower Historians, I can tell you with certainty that the old myths are alive and well, and we continue to receive daily emails this time of year with requests to give Membership to a loved one for Christmas. Today received another, “I see on Ancestry that I am a descendant of, {fill in the blank} passenger on the Mayflower, where do I register our family line? Its going to be interesting in the next few years for sure.

  15. My “favorite” target for teeth-gnashing is not books but the Internet. Online trees that are done by people with out a clue about genealogy–or even biology. “But I saw it on the Internet…it MUST be true!”

  16. I have a problem sorting out 4 lines of Rice. An article or two on suggestions to solve difficult New England lines of common names for future articles. What resources are to believe? Another suggestion us why did they keeping move so much between 1700 to 1850. I suspect perhaps religious or political although most say money. Even as late as 1820-1850 moving back and forth to Canada and back to USA.

  17. It would be wonderful to see some compilation of these ‘fake news’ books – Family name/Title/Author/What are the problems within them.
    Quite some time ago (in my novice years, in which I might still be entangled) I tried to find some analysis of early Vreeland books … were they proven true or were there errors? Never had much response. Eventually I gave up as it became clear that the books did not actually address my major Vreeland brick wall issue anyway.
    It seems like NEHGS or the NGS would be the logical folks to host such a compilation … 🙂

    1. Thank you. This is obviously a high priority and I will definitely be doing posts on the subject. There have been a few attempts at making such lists, which I will root out, but ultimately, there are at least a couple of hang-ups. One is that you can’t really post a whole book as bad (or not often) as parts of it may be perfectly okay, plus you have to prove why they are bad or some people just won’t believe. Another is that the list has to be read. It will be one page among a billion that Internet searchers will deal with. Somehow it is that “first” discovery that lasts, no matter what.

      1. At the same time, it would be helpful to know who exactly CAN be trusted. I say this because our family lore stated that a certain relative was a Mayflower descendant. I tried to confirm that, and could find no link. What I did discover with 100% certainty, however, is that we have a gateway ancestor, Olive Welby. I have therefore been very reliant on Douglas Richardson’s work, esp. “Royal Ancestry” and “Magna Carta Ancestry”. I assume he is reputable and that, of course, if any changes or discrepancies showed up, they would be published. (What I find interesting about this family lore, btw, is that it suggests a faint family memory of some link with major events – but a failure to remember the “real story”. Kind of like that old game of “telephone”, where a message is whispered along from person to person and ends up sounding completely different.)

        1. Susan, Richardson is reputable, but it is not a given that changes and discrepancies will be published. It will depend on whether they are discovered by someone with access to a publishing outlet, which does not always happen.

        2. It’s a lot easier to deduce the sources that should NOT be trusted, since over time one develops a series of red flags to identify and eliminate claims that have not been properly researched. Red flag examples – children born of parents less than 15 yrs old; people born in towns at a time when these places did not yet exist; when all sources given are someone else’s tree; kids born hundreds of miles away from where their parents were born; children who are mysteriously absent from the parent’s will, etc..etc. Maybe it would be useful to compose a full checklist of considerations to validate or invalidate a source.

          1. “people born in towns at a time when these places did not yet exist.”

            You raise an interesting question that I’ve struggled with about place names: do we use the names of the places at the time or what we know them by today? I’ve tried to be historically accurate (e.e.g, Dakota Territory for some people, North Dakotah for those born later; Nuevo Mexico prior to 1821, then Mexico, then Texas.) But then considering changing US county barriers, one could easily assume there’s a mistake — “Everybody knows Carmel is in Penobscot County, Maine, not Hancock County, Massachusetts!”

          2. Dave, somewhere in the recesses of the Vita-Brevis archives is a series I did on Red Flags, but they can never be repeated too often.

          3. Dave, my reply to you got posted under Eric’s comment, so I will reply to Eric here and hopefully you both will figure it out.
            Changing locations are a pain, especially when one has to start out with Plymouth, Plymouth Colony, then Massachusetts Bay Colony, then Massachusetts, and the like. If it is something that repeats in the essay, include a footnote with a description of how the names changed. If it is only one use, try Carmel, Hancock [later Penobscot] County, etc. The hard core genealogists won’t need it, but family and clients sure do!

  18. I certainly like the “Facts vs Fiction” theme. Except that there is actually a third category that accounts for the majority of confusion i.e. information that has neither been proven nor disproven. Using the Mayflower example, we have of course many proven descendancies, as well as many claims that have been firmly debunked. But what about those cases which remain in limbo i.e. have some circumstantial supporting evidence, but with no clear proofs or disproofs? Is there somewhere a list of active but still unresolved Mayflower pedigrees? I have one specific case in mind.

    1. Dave, no official list of “limbo” Mayflower lines, although the Mayflower Society has its records marked for their own use. The list would be very long, unfortunately. Which case do you have in mind?

      1. That would be Richard More, who had no or few recorded children for the first several years of his marriage (lost Plymouth records in some years?), but then had several children. The theory is that his oldest (and unrecorded) daughter was quite naturally named Katherine after his mother. I am descended from Katherine (More) Darling, so of course it is tempting to believe!

  19. I spent 7 months researching a bit of information my now deceased cousin had on “good authority”. I sent her all the documents showing the info she had was wrong (deeds, wills, etc). At least she didn’t put the incorrect info in her book; however, she didn’t put any info I sent her into the book. Her daughter and others continue the “good authority” information in their online trees. I contacted one of the copiers of the “good authority” information, a gentleman member of the SAR who boasted his lineage was proven. He told me he put the info in his tree because if at least 6 people have it in their tree it must be correct… Sigh.

  20. Alicia,

    You seem to have hit a real nerve with that one. Lots of good ideas for new posts! Here’s another, about being wary of the validity of primary data.

    My brother was recently filling in holes in family data, and having trouble finding the marriage certificate for the second marriage of one of our aunts. We knew she’d remarried late in life, and even knew her second husband’s surname, though neither of us ever met him. But no search turned up the license. Finally he thought to search on the husband’s name. Finally, success! Oddly, though, the bride had not used either her first husband’s surname or her maiden name. She had used the married surname of one of her own aunts! We could make lots of guesses as to the reason, but nothing that any genealogist a generation from now would ever guess. That data would stand a high probability of being completely lost.

    So what should have been trustworthy, since it was primary data that she supplied herself, turned out not to be. I’d love to see you write an article on how to trust primary data, or how tell when it’s not.


    1. Doris, will do. Actually, I have found marriage records to be some of the worst reliable. People lie about ages, omit previous marriages, use step-parents’ names, or just make something up that looks better than the truth. I once did research for a family that believed they were descended from a Pawnee. He gave Oklahoma as his birthplace on his marriage record. When all was said and done, he was Algonquin born in upstate New York.

      1. Alicia,

        Now that I think about it, I agree with you completely. The great aunt who took her aunt’s name in vain had another sister who “mis-stated” her age by almost a decade in her own marriage record, and all census records when she was out of the family house. She was, needless to say, that much older than her husband. They had a daughter when the wife was (really!) 45, and mama never did tell her daughter how old she was. Papa died while the daughter was fairly young. At that point another of mama’s many sisters took pity on the daughter and told her the truth. She had a copy of the family Bible, which had the birth records of everybody in the family, and while we all know those can be wrong too, their father had a well earned reputation for honesty. We’ve never been able to disprove any of his Bible entries about birth/marriage/death records.

        Official death records can also be wrong, but in my experience most of those errors are errors of omission. in another branch of my family, the part of the official death certificate filled out by my great grandfather’s daughter, with whom he lived, said “unknown” for where he was born. I’m sure she knew he was born in Norway, because everybody else in the family knew. I’ve always chalked that error up to grief.


  21. I look forward to reading your posts. Please continue. Being a former technical services librarian I am very aware of the importance of citing sources correctly. Trying to confirm sources can be a nightmare. Again, this ties in with the dilemma of verifying the credibility of the creator of the book, article, internet family tree, etc. An interesting topic to explore. How far need one go in verifying a source?

  22. Ah, yes!! The experts are everywhere! I has started to post family tree on line, only to be told that I had the wrong person listed as my maternal grandmother. She had a unique name, and I had birth detail, marriage and death certificates for her, and much of that for her parents. Well, there had been — two generations back — a lady with the same first name, and the critic was certain that she was my grandmother. Never mind that the surnames didn’t work, and the dates were way off!!! My take on books, internet and legend is to treat them as clues to be proven or disproven.

    Thank you for all your postings — the articles and the commentary — you teach me so much!


  23. Alicia, Happy Belated Birthday! As I recall, you hinted at a big day in November. As someone who celebrated perhaps the same milestone in October, welcome to the new decade! On the subject of blog ideas, I love hearing about family superlatives–oldest, youngest, most children or spouses, or longest migration–and the challenge of sorting out the details. On my family tree, the ancestor with the most children (so far) had 10 with his first wife, and upon her death (perhaps from exhaustion), he married a woman 25 years younger and had 10 more. I always wonder how a family with 10, 12, or 14 children managed to feed and clothe them all.

    1. Hi Willetta, thank you. I actually had the big Seven-0 in October, too. Family dynamics with 14 or so children would have been quite different than we’re used to. The oldest children would have been old enough to work, possibly married themselves, or to take care of the younger children, by the time the younger ones were born, so there probably never was a point where all 14 were in the house together. Hopefully, they had a good farm to provide for them.

      1. Happy Birthday ! Now I see how you get so much work done– emailing in the wee small hours! There is a family of 11 in my tree, 2 wives. My poor Isaac was no. 11. Even a large farm couldn’t be divvied up for the next generation and sustain them. So, Connecticut-New York-Illinois. I am re-reading “Our Own Snug Fireside” by the fabulous Jane C. Nylander, and “All Our yesterdays” by James Oliver Robertson & Janet C, Robertson. Both help one to really feel the lives of our ancestors.

  24. I have three generations, one after the other, in the 18th c., who had 12 children, almost all of whom lived to adulthood, married, and had children. You’re right, though, that because they were born over a span of 20+ years, they weren’t all in the house at the same time. According to the data we have, these three generations were all with a single wife. I can’t imagine! Then there’s the husband of one of my nieces who is the youngest of 12. Doesn’t happen often these days, that’s for sure. Among his characteristics are that he’s extremely responsible, and very quiet!

  25. Your “Perfect Ten” article reminded me I have a suggestion for a future article. The suggestion is similar to what we see Henry Louis Gates doing on Finding Your Roots. When the records are insufficient, especially for African-Americans, he finds circumstantial evidence to “prove” a connection. Sometimes he is able to back up his connection with DNA evidence, but not always. But is DNA always essential to confirm the circumstantial evidence?

    For example, I have a “cousin” who believes she is related to me. There doesn’t appear to be any DNA evidence (she would be related to me through a male 3rd cousin 5x removed who fathered a female child with her ancestor and subsequent children in her line are female), but there does appear to be substantial circumstantial evidence through a Cash Receipt Book kept by the town doctor. In going over this book, she has found several instances where my ancestor had a “connection” to her ancestor. For example, there are social familial connections, the Records of the Poor indicate that my ancestor is helping to support the issue of two children from this union, and transferred property to them upon his death.

    Without DNA evidence, how sure can we be? Since this cousin is 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Native American and 1/3 Anglo, it is obvious this last bit has to come from somewhere. So my suggestion is an article about how you can establish connections when you don’t have the traditional records.

  26. Alicia,
    Another possible idea for an essay….the dearth of records during the Scottish migration in the early 1700’s.
    The background of the migration, the likely reason the records are so poor, and whatever info we do have on the destinations of the ships and the passengers on them.
    Thank you for so much for sharing so much of your knowledge.
    Katherine Foster

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