Your Family Tree
"Those who do not look upon themselves as a link, connecting the past with the future, do not perform their duty to the world." - Daniel Webster
Fascination with one's ancestors and origins is a natural human interest. In recent years, the advent of powerful internet genealogy technologies has made searching out your family tree even easier. But it also means that family historians, amateur and professional, have to be on their guard like never before to avoid information that is incorrect, misleading, or downright fraudulent.
Like most people's, your family tree is probably full of colorful family legends. Many people like to claim that they are related to Abraham Lincoln, or that their great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess. But exaggerating the exploits of your ancestors-or even claiming different ancestors altogether-is doing your real ancestors a disservice, by asserting that the lives they actually lived didn't matter or weren't good enough. Beware of family legends.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. You don't have to completely disregard all the legends and stories in your family tree. Most have at least a small basis in truth and can lead you to the real history.
Aside from inaccurate or exaggerated family legends, you should also watch out for genealogy fraud and forgery. Throughout history, there have been people who were desperate enough to claim prominent ancestors that they actually forged connections to them, or bought into the claims of fraudulent researchers. One such fraudulent genealogist was Gustave Anjou, a Swedish-born genealogy con man who got rich by working for New England families and "proving" their connections to original Mayflower passengers, famous Revolutionary War veterans, or European royalty. He fooled most families by citing many actual documents as sources, thus making it appear as though he had done real research when in fact he had just pieced together fake family trees.
So when you are researching your family tree, or if you choose to hire a professional to research it for you, how do you make sure that the information you're getting is correct? Anyone who knows anything about the field of genealogy will agree that there are two books that should be your guide: the BCG Standards Manual, a book setting out proof standards for the field of genealogy, and Evidence! by Elizabeth Shown Mills, the premiere citation guide for family history and genealogy (the companion volume, Evidence Explained, is also helpful).
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