20 January 2014

You've Got It So Wrong, You Don't Want To Be Right

There comes a time in every life when we have to admit we made a mistake. Some errors are "small". Transposition of numbers in a birth year (how did 1795 become 1975?), and we don't even break a sweat. What really keeps us up at night are those mistaken identities. You know the ones. Only a few generations back, you have the wrong person. And after that wrong person, you've gone back several generations more. You've added their "aunts" and "uncles" and second cousins........ to remove this person means an entire entourage needs to go too. To make matters worse, this wrong person is also your link to that famous or infamous relative you just love to show off. Ugh. When this happens, there's usually one of two camps you'll land in: The Pronials or the Blangers.


What makes you a Pronial? You'd rather rip out your own eyeballs than have to delete each person out of your tree one by one, so you ignore that mistake "for now". You know you have something to fix, but it's on that "unimportant" line. I mean, you've just found some really great info about your mother's father's 2nd great uncle! You will get back to fixing this. It's just going to be so much work. And work isn't fun. Genealogy is fun, dang it! When you're ready for the not fun part of genealogy, you'll clear this whole thing up. Promise.

How long can you put it off? Forever!!!!! As long as no one points it out. Then comes the defensive, "yeah I know, but I've not had time to fix it." You've had time. Just no motivation. Some people are so ensconced in this Pronial culture that they'd rather take their tree private so other people can't find the mistake rather than fix it! There's just so much to do........ anywhere else but on that line. You'll even *gasp* stop working on your tree and do housework instead! But every day you don't repair this mistake, the true relatives aren't found. Every week that passes is one less week you have to find them. Soon enough, you'll get confused and frustrated with your work. You'll avoid challenging yourself by fixing this error and it will fester. A dead limb on an otherwise vibrant tree.


The Blanger takes no responsibility for the mistake. They've used other people's research. They can't afford to get a copy of the original, so they had to make a best guess from the index. They may have even paid someone else to do it, so how dare you suggest the mistake is theirs! What about all these other people that have the same information? Huh? Are you going to hound the others as much as this one person??? How dare you criticise their work! You must be an unemployed fat loser with lots of time on your hands that you use only to tear other people down. For shame! It's their tree and if you don't like it, then just don't look at it! That's it, if you won't leave them alone, then you are blocked.

Is anyone else's left arm going numb? Seriously, what is with the rage? A mistaken ancestor isn't going to bring about a nuclear war or kill puppies. It isn't a critique of you as a person for someone else to point out the mistake. It's not a big deal. But Blangers think it is a very big deal. And it's someone else's fault! Unless another person has access to your tree and is randomly inserting people without your knowledge, then how is someone else to blame? Even if you have invited a crazy realtive to your tree who is desperately (and incorrectly) trying to connect you to the House of Stuart, doesn't mean you can't just go fix it. And what is with the blocking? I see people on the groups and forums saying, "Just block them and don't worry about it." Really? Because if you ignore them, the mistake goes away? Unless someone is threatening you with bodily harm or calling you names, there's no reason to start blocking people. Keep in mind, disagreement isn't bullying, it's a healthy exchange of ideas.

You're wrong today, You're wrong tomorrow

One thing I have noticed from the folks completely unwilling to even consider the errors in their tree is a knee-jerk reaction that this one error calls into question their entire tree. Rarely is this true. Yes, you will now have to erase (or at least call into question) a portion of your tree. But isn't it the thrill of the hunt that drives us? Instead of imagining all the work you're going to have to put into fixing this problem, how about focusing on how you'll feel when you finally know the right answer? It's not actually about the error, is it? It's about admitting you're wrong. I know, it's hard. We all struggle with the skill of admitting our mistakes. Even I can first take a defensive posture on a discussion if it calls into question any "fact" I believe in firmly. Sometimes I've dug in too hard and come out with egg on my face.

Which is why I've learned to take a "question everything" approach. If I haven't seen it with my own eyes, I now qualify any statement to include "supposedly", "according to", "so I've heard", or some variation. If I wasn't a witness, I question the sources about their reliability. Were they there? Did they hear it from someone else? Is it written or oral history? Do separate independent witnesses confirm the report? And this goes well beyond genealogy. I'll rarely share a Facebook post without checking two or more hoax sites to make sure I'm not perpetuating a lie (much to my trigger-happy friends' dismay). I don't spread celebrity gossip. And I sure as heck wheel away from political or religious debates. Seriously, those last two are no-wins. I may point out a falsehood or misconception, but I love my friends and family enough to stop short of shaking the pillars of their faith. Forget about getting me to talk about ongoing criminal investigations. Police and lawyers don't make every discovery public, so unless I'm on the jury, it makes no nevermind to me. I can't tell you the number of times my dad and I will start talking about an actor only for both of us to stop and head to IMDB to "settle it". The point is, if you can't back up an assertion with consistent evidence, then there's no solid footing to stand your ground when conflicting stories come to light.

In genealogy, you won't always be able to prove definitively the facts that make up your tree. Sometimes it will be an absence of evidence that speaks volumes. Because your case may be best made by circumstantial evidence, the most important phrase for many genealogists can be "a thorough and reasonably exhaustive search". Before you make any "solid" claim about any ancestor, ask yourself if you've made a thorough and exhaustive search. If someone comes around saying you've got it wrong, consider their evidence. Did you review those materials and dismissed them due to overwhelming evidence in another direction? Or have you never seen them before? Does the other person even have evidence to the contrary of your case? And what is a thorough and exhaustive search? It's all about available records. Have you looked for all census records, birth certificates, death notices, land grants, newspaper articles, etc. that could possibly exist for the relative in question? Online only research isn't thorough or exhaustive. Censuses used as the only residence evidence isn't thorough or exhaustive. And while I appreciate volunteer researchers (and count myself among them), I question the exhaustiveness of any research I haven't done myself, especially if I'm not paying for it. Research I pay for has to come with evidence of where the person has looked, even if nothing was found, in order to prove the thoroughness of the research (or at least should if the researcher is worth their salt). A volunteer usually just plugs the names and dates you give them into a database and pulls the best match for you. Not always wrong, but there's going to be that possibility that one of the other matches is better. My biggest peeve on the volunteer front is when a person requests information on a relative and all they give is a name, no dates or locations, but volunteers start flooding them with "possible" record matches. It's so easy to get it wrong in such a situation. And when your less than exhaustive research proves to bear poisoned fruit, it's not the volunteer that chokes on it.

There are many many times in my own research that I've been wrong. I may still be wrong on some maiden names that are proving to be my brickwalls. If someone comes along who can tell me what the right name is, and can provide even a small amount of evidence to support their claim, then it's time to consider it. I know that my so-called "brickwall" in my maternal line is due to a less than thorough search. But I either have to pay a local researcher or make a research trip as the information isn't available online. And I am a total "thrill of the hunt" genealogist. I'll wait til I can look for myself, thank you. But if a relative comes along who says, "hey, I have that information as I've already made that trip," I'm not going to look in that gift horse's mouth, even if the trip proves I'm on the wrong path.

I will pretend my grandmother is right behind me and accept these clues with grace.

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