Friday, July 22, 2022


A Person Convinced against their Will is of the Same Opinion Still!


We have all known people who refuse to change their minds no matter how much proof you supply, and this is especially frustrating in genealogy.  No matter how much careful research you have done; no matter what the DNA test reports; no matter how much objective proof you provide, some non-believers cannot be convinced.

I have spent years trying to bring documentation and DNA to prove family lines, hoping to answer questions and "set the record straight".  But time after time, I have encountered people who want to "fight" the evidence.  It's like being a prosecutor in a court case with strong evidence, but the jury is still not convinced.

While researching and questioning his line, my husband was told "It doesn't matter who you claim as your ancestor unless the are trying to join the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution)".   That organization and the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) have increased their standards of proof.  They no longer allow family histories, for example, as evidence.  Now one must have documentary evidence of a direct relationship in order to join.  Other than those organization requirements and professional genealogists, does anyone really care who you claim as an ancestor? 

Many people want a royal or a military ancestor in their history, and when they think they have one, they don't want to relinquish him or her.  

What do I do?  Much less than I used to do.  Am I giving up?  Perhaps.  

I have decided not to be a genealogical policeman, trying to "arrest" those folks who are willing to accept information without evidence to prove or disprove it.  Instead, I am concentrating on gathering evidence through documents and DNA to convince myself that my ancestors are truly my ancestors. 


Friday, February 18, 2022

Does it Sound too Good to be True?

 How Online Trees can Lead Us Astray

I have an ancestor believed to have been born around 1666 in England who supposedly was born on shipboard coming to America.  What we can document is a marriage of a person with her named on 14 Feb 1718 at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  She is marrying a person believed to be my ancestor.  Male DNA shows my line connected to her husband, but we are still missing a generation, so it is still possible that my ancestor could have been a brother to her husband.  

However, over the years, people have stretched her ancestry backwards and forward with lots of undocumented information.  For example, I have seen trees with her parents listed.  Some trees show her mother as a Day; others show her as a Gray.  When I checked the documentation for the Gray name, it was based on a marriage that occurred about 100 years after my ancestor was born.  

I thought I might have a clue when I saw a photo of a gravestone on one tree.  When I enlarged the photo I saw what it said, posted below.  Then when I went to Find-a-Grave, this was a different Day family, buried in Connecticut, with that person born in Massachusetts and marrying a different person.

Ancestry makes it very easy to absorb photos and records into your trees.  This can be positive or negative - but always check the information and it there are any red flags, save the information for further research or simply ignore. 

If the information sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

 Fact vs. Fiction? 

or Documentation?

Remember, when trying to create an accurate family tree, people may have given misinformation for a variety of reasons.

If you have done any research on your ancestors, it's likely you have already run across mistakes, not only in family histories but also in official documents.  It's understandable that human error occurs, such as a wrong date in a family Bible or on a tombstone.  But what about when a person purposely gives wrong information.  What could be their motivation?

Here are some of the reasons I have found:


1.  A husband is listed on the birth record because the couple was married, but the child was fathered by another man.

2.  An unmarried woman gives birth to a child and later her parents claim the child as their child rather than as a grandchild.

3.  A stepchild is raised by a step parent, and although never legally adopted, the child uses the surname  

4.  An incestuous relationship occurred, a child is born, and the mother is sworn to secrecy.  

Incorrect Age

1.  A person reports himself as older in order to engage in an activity that requires a specific age.  This could be joining the military, marrying, voting, driving, smoking, drinking alcohol etc.  We know there is still a market for fake identifications.

2.  A person wants to appear younger for vanity purposes.  I knew a woman who lied about her age for years.  When she became eligible for Social Security benefits, she had a very hard time proving her age, since all her documents showed a later date of birth.

3.  Many documents rely on the statement of the people themselves when recording their ages, without verification.  This is true of census reports and other documents.  Or when a person dies, the person giving the information for the death certificate may or may not have correct information.  The same incorrect information for birth or death might also be engraved on a tombstone.  

Information to Obtain Benefits

1.  Military pension applications - Some soldiers and/or their widows wanted to obtain a regular government benefit for their service.  Some people lied about their service.  

2.  Land Grants - in the past, free land has been offered by the governement  with certain stipulations.  Early grants were made, even before the Revolutionary War, if people made certain promises.  In many cases they were required to settle on the land, grow a crop, or other requirements.  Later land grants were offered in lieu of pay for military service.  And later still, there were grants to people who could prove their Native American heritage.

Use of an Alternate Name

1.  As mentioned above, a person may assume the name of a step parent

2.  A person may be trying to hide themselves from people, the law or past activities

Remarrying without a Divorce

1.  Occasionally a person may erroneously believe that they are a widow or widower.  They may have been given misinformation, or simply believe after several years their spouse died.

2.  Sometimes when people remarried they said they were widowed because they were deserted and couldn't locate their spouse to get a divorce.

You may be able to think of other examples, so try to collect as many sources as possible to find the truth when you create your family tree.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021


      When Do Family Stories become Fact?

Does the constant retelling of  family stories make them more believable?

There is an old fable about some blind men coming upon an elephant and trying to learn what the elephant was like by touching different parts of his body. Each blind man felt a different part of the elephant's body, and then described the elephant based on their experiences. Each description differed from the others. 

This fable illustrates we claim truth based on our limited and subjective experiences. 

We all have bits and pieces of our family history stored in our brains.  Some are experiences we had as children within our families; some are family stories told by parents and relatives or information printed as family history.

Before the Internet made documents available online, it was difficult to find documentation of events or people without making trips to court houses or visiting cemeteries. People relied on the memories of relatives to piece together their family history.

One common problem is the names we call our relatives.  When my mother, my daughter and I were all alive, we were all grandmothers.  I called my mother Mom, but my children called her Grandma.  When I became a grandmother my grandchildren called me Grandma but they also called my Mom Grandma.  When I was young, I only had 2 living grandmothers, but although I had living great aunts, I only called them Aunts as my parents did.

In one family story, a grandson had reported many years ago that his grandfather served in the Revolutionary War.  It was assumed that this was his grandfather, when in fact, it was his great grandfather. 

Confusion exists in family stories when two people, such as a father and son, share a given name.   Other family stories get confused when reporting the family's heritage or ethnicity.  There seems to have been a fad in the early 20th century with people claiming Native American ancestry.  My father said his grandfather told him that they were one quarter Indian.  Research and now DNA has shown that that is not true.  We know the recent flap about Elizabeth Warren and her family's story that she had Native American heritage, and it ended up being incorrect.

There is also confusion when remembering that someone talked about the "old country" where the ancestors lived.  Later we may wonder whether that Irish or Italian ancestor was on the mother or father's side.

There are also the family cover-ups when someone brought shame on the family.  I've often heard "We just don't talk about that."  This was particularly true when woman had a child without being married to the father.  In many cases, the grandparents of the child claimed the child as their own.  Quite often the family perpetuated the story.  I have seen obituaries naming grandchildren as children, rather than grandchildren, of the deceased.   Some children were taken into families and assumed that name without being legally adopted.

I was just researching about a person who people have claimed to be a full-blooded Indian or half Indian.  The information has been "out there" for at least 25 years, but never documented. in 1995 a person said "I have obtained a copy of The Descendants of Nicholas Cain 1736-1986 by Wayne R Cain, now deceased and Shirley J Evans. On page 168 of the Cain book it states (the person in question) is an Algonquin Indian, either Half or full blood."

Twenty five years later, people now claim this book as "documentation".

I could go on and on about shattered myths and family stories, but they abound.  DNA has become the "lie detector" of genealogical research. DNA does a good job of deciding who was NOT your ancestor.

Some people want verification and documentation while others are happy with family stories.  People who want royalty or Native Americans in their ancestry may not be interested in accuracy.  Using a fake name is not illegal unless you are trying to defraud someone.  A volunteer at a research center told my husband, "As long as you are not trying to join the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution), you can claim to have a Revolutionary War ancestor."  We kind of chuckled at his remark, but it does speak to tolerance in allowing people to find some kind of pleasure in their family stories - true or false.  

Saturday, August 7, 2021

 To Share or Not to Share?

On 3 Aug 2021, Ancestry updated their Terms of Service , and some folks are very upset about what this might mean.  In fact some are recommending that you no longer upload files AND that you delete your information.

Ancestry has always had a note in the Gallery Section (where your photos, images and stories are added) which says, "All content submissions are subject to the Content Submission Agreement, which you have previously accepted."

There is a link there as well as other places on the site with statements about the responsibilities of both you and of Ancestry. The agreement has statements such as "The decision to upload personal information to the Ancestry website is your responsibility. Once you upload, the uploaded data becomes accessible by all persons accessing Ancestry websites, at least to the degree that it will be searched for data matches. Ancestry's liability and obligation in connection with the publishing of any information by you is strictly limited by the Site Terms and Conditions.. . . In addition please be aware that You agree to provide true, accurate and complete information. If any information you provide is, in our sole judgment, false or misleading, we reserve the right to terminate your use of Ancestry and/or delete all content that you have submitted."

I'm sure we have all noticed that many people have "violated" this contract by posting incorrect information or snagging and reposting information as if it is their own on Ancestry and on other public and private genealogy sites.

There are always risks in putting ANY information on the Internet whether a site is private or public. We always lose control unless we own the site. I can tell you lots of stories with bad endings when I have shared information, but I will continue to share my genealogy since I don't want it to "die" with me. I also remind myself that I might have custody of information, but I don't OWN my ancestors' stories or photographs. I've been blessed to have custody of some older photos saved by my grandparents or my parents, but the owners are deceased. Most of the photos I "own" are people who are living, not my ancestors.

So, use your own best judgement about how, when and where you choose to share your photos, stories and information, but if you are worried about who "owns" your information, do not post it on the Internet at all.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

 Where Do You Find Free Genealogical Records?

An Ancestry member asked me where she could find additional records online. As you probably know, Ancestry owns two other genealogical sites that require payment - Newspapers and Fold 3.

The appeal of paying and using Ancestry is the millions of family trees, the documents and the DNA matches. The Fold 3 site contains military records for the various wars, and the Newspaper site has many publications, and both have a way to link the information back to your family tree at Ancestry.

However, if you don't want to pay, there are many sites that offer much of what Ancestry and its sites offer - at no charge.

Find-A-Grave is owned by Ancestry but is still free. Since all the information has been added by volunteers, I would hope they never decide to charge.

WikiTree and Family Search (LDS site) offer the ability to create and share online trees. You must register but there is no charge. The problem with those trees is that they are shared and others can modify. Ancestry allows you to invite others to edit your trees, but you have control over those people and how much you allow them to participate.

But you can use what Family Search has to offer without creating a tree there. FamilySearch has many documents online. The personal trees there that people have added are full of errors, but the documents are helpful and some of them are not on Ancestry.

If you have Ancestors from West Virginia, for example, there is a great site with birth, marriage and death records: 

Other states have similar online records to search. You can often find tax, birth, death and marriage records. Here's a link to the Missouri site which has 9 million records.  And there are many other states that offer vital records online.

The National Archives site has newspapers and many other records.

Another overlooked resource is to search in Google Books: Some are not available because of copyrights but there are many available there. When searching narrow your search by adding "history" or "genealogy" and then be specific with names, dates or locations. I have found many family histories this way.

Another site filled with books on genealogy is Genealogy Gophers This is a free site, and you can view or download a minimum number books. They ask for a donation after 3 downloads. The site is worth a donation.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Beware of False Genealogies and Genealogists


I became a witness to a "war" between a person who writes books about one of my ancestral lines and others who felt they had become her "target".  I was only an observer, and I was skeptical when people warned me against contacting her or using her findings.  After all, she claimed to be a "genealogist" and  her "documents" were on Ancestry.  I looked at her biography on line, and her credentials seemed to be fine. 

But  I kept encountering researchers who were warning me off and even seemed paranoid about this woman.  I thought that was a bit strange, and I wondered about them.  Were they jealous or had something against her?  I was beginning to feel she was being bullied by people.

As I compared information about our common line, I noticed that what I had researched didn't match her family stories and her documents.  That didn't bother me too much, since genealogy is not an exact science.  However, in most cases people acknowledge if they have taken liberties or explain their conclusions.  She didn't, but I excused her since many mistakes are out there, and genealogy is generally just a hobby.

When I found she had published several books about our shared family line, I dug deeper into her "research". After a while, I began to wonder why she never reported the sources of her "documents" and why the handwriting on the documents she shared seemed so modern?   Although she claimed she was reporting researched family history, her books seemed to be "historical fiction".  

I later learned that she has threatened law suits against people who challenge her work, that she has changed other people's work online and publicly called out people who disagree with her.   Needless to say I was a bit shocked to find out she apparently was as mean-spirited as people claimed.  Wow!  

The following is a portion of a letter written in defense of one of the person's victims. This letter was written by a researcher who had been attacked by the person mentioned above and described her experiences.

"(The author) contacted me the first time probably in 2011 after reading a message that I had written on Rootsweb or one of the other message boards. At this time, I think she was writing her first book. She asked me to send her a copy of my documentation, she wanted to include it in her book. I shared some information, but did not send all my documentation.  Two years later, (I was asked) to join the (family research) Group on Facebook. I joined for a short time, but I found (her) to be overbearing and quickly dropped out of the group. She started harassing me through emails, threatening to sue me for defamation of (her ancestor's) character.  I had to block her three times on my email account, because she kept changing her username to reach me. She was also harassing me on Find-A-Grave and Ancestry. Find-A-Grave removed her from their site. I do not know for certain that Ancestry contacted her, but after numerous complaints by me about her, the harassment stopped or so I thought. In Oct 2016, she contacted almost all of the teachers at my school hoping that someone would email her a negative comment. I had to ask school officials to block her from our school email site. After the book was written I thought she was through, but this week she deleted information on and also recently set up a duplicate account on Find- A Grave.  (She) likes to cut and paste. She takes comments and changes the context to make it look like people are agreeing with her. (She) has placed documentation on Ancestry that a descendant submitted DNA and proved (his ancestry) but the ancestor never married and does not have any descendants.  Before she wrote her book, she was told numerous times by several people that her documentation was wrong, but she wrote the book anyway. Then all the records were placed on Ancestry and people began posting them to their trees."

All of this reminded me of a woman who sold fraudulent genealogies in my Dotson line to help people join the Daughters of the American Revolution. She is the reason that a Sarah Hollyday is still showing up erroneously as a wife of my Richard Dotson, and may always show up as a wife.   It was only when a book was being written about Richard Dotson that the truth came out.  The wife of the author was the county librarian and secured the book which supposedly "documented" the "marriage" of Sarah to Richard.  The book existed, and the pages referenced existed, but the information showed she married another person and was never married to Richard Dotson.  Unfortunately, some want to make money from family history and will create history if it's not available.  

Beware of the bearer of genealogical gifts that seem too good to be true, and beware of challenging the bearer of the "gifts" if money is the motive.

  A Person Convinced against their Will  is of the Same Opinion Still!   We have all known people who refuse to change their minds no matter...