We all love it when we have identified a new ancestor and can then add them to our family tree to fill that annoying gap that once blighted our research. The sense of satisfaction to jump back one more generation can sometimes blind us, if only for a second. Unfortunately it can be for longer!
All to often we can be lead down the wrong path by spotting a person with the same name as the one we are seeking. By adding this likely person into our family tree, and then researching back from them, we have effectively grafted on to our own tree a branch of someone else’s which has no real right to be there.
I almost got caught out with one of my own ancestors who was responsible for a long standing brick wall of mine. I had already identified the marriage of this individual in a Plymouth church in 1794. From the parish register entry I had her name and that she was “of this parish”. Naturally I hoped that I could find her baptism and then the marriage of her parents and so go back through the generations in the city. Sadly, in this instance, when she declared she was of the parish it meant little more than that she was living there at the time. In a place, such as Plymouth, we have to be aware that such a conurbation would have attracted people in from the surrounding towns and countryside, as well as by sea.
I worked out a possible birth range from her marriage and searched Plymouth with no joy. I then widened the search to the whole of the county and was rewarded with a person with the correct name being born in North Devon. At this point I experienced the rush associated with the belief that I was on her trail! Unfortunately, by checking for marriages in the area, I found that this woman married someone else a year after my own ancestor with the same name married in Plymouth.
The fact that our ancestors were happy to chose from a small pool of forenames makes family history research harder and so anything that can make things easier for us should be welcomed. Or should it?
I am referring to the temptation to take a suggestion from an online family tree, or these days the clever matching software that online data websites boast, and simply click to add the suggested person to our tree without checking the evidence backs us up. Some people say that we should aim to find two or more sources as evidence for a particular fact. I read that Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogist has said that she believes that it’s the quality not quantity of your evidence that counts. This I think is very sound advice. So look at the facts and decide how much weight you truly can give to it before adding it to your family tree.
To learn more about tracing your English or Welsh family History you may be interested in my online course: