Pride, prejudice and genealogy

As they say “pride comes before a fall” and that applies in genealogy research as well. Over the years you’ve heard me say that I vastly prefer narrative documentation to conventional genealogy in trees, pedigree charts and ahnentafel numbers.

My earliest genimates, in the late 1980s, both belonged to the narrative tribe and they were both super-smart women. Perhaps that influenced my documentation but more likely it was also a personal predisposition. One was a little inclined to over-romanticise the story within the facts, which didn’t suit my direct style.

qld-muster-rollI suppose somewhere in the distant past I must have started with some pedigree charts and family group sheets – in fact it comes to me that this is what went into my contribution to the Genealogical Society of Queensland Bicentennial Muster Rolls (somewhere on my shelves). My preferred genealogy program has always been the now-defunct Relatively Yours and this is where I kept my basic data of BDMs. Writing my Kunkel book required me to have a full chart for the family in there. However, overall the program contained the bare data while the rest went into narrative from my notebooks.

Now that DNA has arrived on the scene this level of pride, and prejudice, has come back to haunt me. Now I need to know exactly where everyone fits on a family tree. Now I need to know the degree of relationships and who is a third cousin twice removed. How the genealogy gods (our ancestors?) must be laughing! On the positive side I’ve always been a fan of FANs (friends, associates and neighbours) or FFANS and I’ve used my research of collateral lines to solve mysteries and knock down the odd brick wall.

Playing nicely in the sandpit. Wikimedia commons.

My documentation has been expensively and laterally obtained from original sources in archives and libraries in Australia and around the world. I was more than a little precious about it and reluctant to share especially where it was a one-way street. A few cases of slurping up my data with no thanks or reciprocity had made me cynical….no more playing nicely in the sandpit for me. Then there were a few cases where the fanciful family story was stacked against the facts and came out ahead…in came that pride and prejudice again. Let the facts speak and if you want to tell the inherited story, tell it as exactly that.

Another source of pride has been my blithe, and close to total, disregard of Ancestry trees. Funnily enough I do think you need to know what you’re looking for, by working steadily back from yourself, the old-fashioned way.

There was the day that one tree gave me a dose of conniptions when I saw a tree with umpteen more children than my particular family. Back to the drawing board and it took only a short time to realise they had mixed up two totally separate families (albeit with the same parents’ names): one lot was in New South Wales (Aussie royalty) and the other was my Queensland mob.  The children from each had been interleaved on the one tree. Whew! Prejudice confirmed.

Naryshkin family tree: Wikimedia Commons

Over the time I’ve also been too prideful to much attention to online trees because I’d been careful and was confident my research was a rigorous as I could make it. What I missed was that those trees  were being grown by likely cousins….how astonishing! I may shake my head at seeing un-cited images from my book but I’ve come to the conclusion that at least people are enthusiastic about their family trees and sharing information. I’ve even bitten the bullet and put up a tree of my own and made it public….believe me that’s been a huge leap of faith. Get back pride, take a seat prejudice.

So my task at present is to work through those shaky leaves on family trees and pin down where they fit in: are they cousins or do they simply have some remote peripheral family link? It’s going to take time and it can only help build up my knowledge of family and should help with my DNA matches, and maybe encourage some to test as well. There’s certainly no shortage of kin out there.

19 thoughts on “Pride, prejudice and genealogy

  1. Sometimes if you see something like
    …”a tree with umpteen more children than my particular family. Back to the drawing board and it took only a short time to realise they had mixed up two totally separate families (albeit with the same parents’ names): one lot was in New South Wales (Aussie royalty) and the other was my Queensland mob. The children from each had been interleaved on the one tree. ”

    then it might be a working tree where somebody is trying to work things out … maybe 😉 Or maybe they do indeed have it wrong. However, a well sourced public tree that they can compare their work to might help to set them on the straight and narrow.

    I haven’t regretted making my tree public or sharing information via my blog. Yes information has been re-used but I acknowledge that putting something on the web is to let go of control. I don’t public images or information that I don’t want in the public domain.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am slowly learning to let go of control even though I’m well aware that just because it’s online doesn’t make it free range. I figured if people have much of my tree, taken from my book, there’s not much point keeping mine private.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Anne, Thanks for visiting and commenting. Yes, it’s possible it was a working tree and now that I’m expanding my own, I can readily see how easy it is to fall into the shaky leaf trap for the wrong people. Who knows I may be doing the same 😉

      I prefer blogging as it lets me tell the story in more detail rather than the simple data.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How wonderfully expressed!
    We’ve had quite different experiences with sharing by the sounds of it. My first genealogy contacts shared their information very generously with me. I am generally happy to share with others. The ones who have reciprocated generously, to the extent that they are able, more than compensate for the few who are less willing. Even so, I’m often torn. Should I share a great find or, considering the effort and expense that went in to it, keep it to myself? Usually I will put the bare bones of it on my Ancestry tree, but more on my own website.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pertinent comments Shelley. I had a wonderfully reciprocal interaction with my first genimates and indeed with many others. However some leave a little to be desired. I’ve been more reluctant to share when I know it’s copyright info or when I’m planning to publish.


  3. Great post. I too look down my nose at some online trees and your comment about these people possibly being cousins hit me like a ton of bricks!! How did I not think of that? At the very least, I could be of help to them and they may very well have information I need too. I’m a big believer in sharing because so many helped me-expecting nothing in return-along the way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for commenting Sandra. I think we are all happy to share but a thank-you is just courtesy. I think my problem is that I’ve been doing this for so long I’ve accumulated heaps of “stuff”. I’d love to hear from more cousins, see photos/stories of their branches of the family.


  4. What a thought-provoking post! It is so natural to have “my-tree-itis” thinking this is my data (as if my distant cousins had nothing to offer!). I keep a tree on Ancestry to raise awareness of my ancestors, but my more serious work is on As I understand it, FamilySearch is one large tree, in which contributors collaborate. It has a built-in mechanism for refinement, for others can add their new finds to “my” tree. (I use quotation marks for “my” tree, for I understand it it is more like a wiki.)
    If someone makes erroneous changes or does not cite sources, I can question them or change it back. Rather than recklessly copy and start multiple versions of trees and replicating errors, we refine one common tree.

    Some of you probably understand this better than I do. Did I correctly describe the difference between FS and Ancestry?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting Doug. I don’t have a tree of FS but that’s my understanding too. I agree that a tree is very rarely purely “ours” because we share our ancestors with so many.


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