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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More thoughts on the 10 generation issue

I am intrigued by the issues raised in a series of blogs about documenting 10 generations. Please see "Documenting 10 Generations Revisited" by Randy Seaver and follow his links. I realize that the topic died a rather quick death in the blog community. But there is an underlying issue, what kind of documentation is really possible and how believable is any documentation back hundreds of years? This issue goes along with the claims made by numbers of genealogists that they have lines going back to _________. (Fill in the blank with any historical person including Charlemagne or even Adam himself).

My initial question is why 10 generations? Why not 4, 6, 8 or even 12? Realistically, some people do not know who their parents are. Regularly, I work with individuals who are trying to identify their own parents, usually either a natural father or mother not usually both. Given the constant of adopted children and children born out of wedlock, it is not at all that unusual to find a deadend, not just a brickwall somewhere in your family tree. I have such a situation in Denmark back only four generations.

The danger inherent in the idea that a certain number of generations matters, is that it encourages name gathering at the expense of in depth family history. I know the issue lies with the term "documented." But what does that really mean? If I tie into one of the bogus Medieval pedigrees does that mean my line is "documented?" Realistically, what kinds of records pertaining to individuals exist back before 1500? 1550 seems to be the watershed year. Very few records exist before that time and many lines, especially of common people without connections to royalty, would run out of records long before that early date. Part of the issue is the simple question of where do you start? If I start with my daughter, who has the benefit of two parents who are actively involved in genealogy and then count her as the first generation, ten generations only takes us back to the early 1700s. But if I start with myself and count back to my father as one generation, that takes the lines back to the early 1600s and there are few records in many of the lines.

One more generation back takes me to the Mayflower families, who are notorious for lacking any verifiable ancestry. Taking one or two or even more lines back into the 1500s or earlier is not impossible or even very impressive, but the thought of having a consistently documented genealogy of ten or more generations on all of your lines is highly unrealistic. In addition, having that as a goal or example may become a terrible discouragement to those who give up genealogy because the "goal" is unobtainable.

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