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Phantom Limbs in the Family Tree

May 12, 2016 , , , ,

my ethnicity map

my ethnicity map

My research into family history started after both my parents had died. They each left some written material about their families, but neither parent had been particularly interested in genealogy.  My father said he was Scots-Irish, which is in part true.  Both parents had ancestors who immigrated to America from the British Isles in the 1600s.  The DNA survey on ancestry shows that my DNA is 85% from Great Britain.  When the survey was much younger and fewer participants had contributed my ethnicity was estimated at 99% from the British Isles.  My “trace region” is the Caucasus area of Asia.  The Asian genes may be a fluke, as explained in the accompanying material.

my tree

my tree

I am sure about the first three generations I have listed, but my maternal grandmother was an orphan adopted in Mississippi in a county where the courthouse burned to the ground.  We have no way to find records of her natural parents.  She moved to Texas with her adoptive family.  Some of the branches are easy to research and verify.  Others have me at dead ends. My most irksome dead end is my third great-grandfather, Thomas Peterson, born in Indiana in 1825.  I keep looking for answers about his parentage but have not found any records of his birth.  More official historical records are digitally added all the time, so I could still find something new that would break the case for me.  It bugs me that I can trace his nephew’s line back in time, but not Thomas’.

Along the way I have discovered my own mistakes, and have also had problems pointed out to me by other ancestry enthusiasts.  It is always a drag to find errors because it means you need to remove the phantom family and start again at the point you can verify the data.  I have lost a few big limbs this way.  I had become fond of many of the members of my unverified people.  It is funny to give them up with such great emotion, since they were not really my ancestors, but I can tell you that this feels awful.  I still think about them in history too.  Sometimes I am angry that I made such mistakes in my research, but usually I am glad I met them (historically) and held them in my memory.  When my first cousin gave me the news that I had the wrong John Taylor as my 3rd great-grandfather I was very upset.  I had to admit that she had a point.  This involved chopping down a limb that I had built back to the middle ages in England, with many illustrious stories along the way.  Alas, they were all built on specious data.  Now I am back to Jonathan Aaron Taylor, who fought in the Revolutionary War and was discharged in South Carolina..not born there. I suppose I am happy to have him even though he is not who I thought he was.

Jonathan Aaron Taylor (1760 – 1820)
3rd great-grandfather
John Samuel Taylor (1798 – 1873)
son of Jonathan Aaron Taylor
William Ellison Taylor (1839 – 1918)
son of John Samuel Taylor
George Harvey Taylor (1884 – 1941)
son of William Ellison Taylor
Ruby Lee Taylor (1922 – 2008)
daughter of George Harvey Taylor
Pamela Morse
I am the daughter of Ruby Lee Taylor

Have you ever attempted an ancestry study?  It is really easy now that is there to guide you.  Just be careful as you roam around in that data. Not all of it can be verified, especially the family trees.  Don’t copy another person’s data until you examine it carefully for errors. The ancestors have much to teach us..and one of the lessons is VERIFY your facts before you swallow them whole. Save yourself the heartache of saying good-bye to bogus relatives.


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I am glad to see you haven’t stopped working on your geneaology! I am learning that finding and tracing the family tree is fraught with many false leads and incorrect information not to mention things like missing information due to catastrophe.


I recently published a 100 page family book that contains 8 generations going back to the mid-1800s. Our book has 430 descendants. Fortunately, when I was in college in the mid-1980s, I built a database of our family members—I have a computer science degree. It wasn’t until about a year ago when I made the best decision in tracking family members—I assigned each family member a Descendant ID. It is a 12-digit schema I came up with that automatically sorts each generation naturally in birth order. It allows all 430 family members to be printed in a Family Tree format that is only 33 continuous pages long. When I create or come across articles, pictures, and other artifacts, I name the files in association with the primary descendant ID. About 75 of the pages for the book are printed directly from the database—I have reports for the Family Tree, Birthday Listing, Anniversary Listing, and Addresses. It takes less than 5 minutes to publish the 75 pages and they fit perfectly in the middle with all page numbers being correct.

As for researching the family, I recommend “interviewing” each of the elderly family members that are still living and have them tell you legacy and hand-me-down stories they heard when they were kids. Be sure and get the source and date of the stories so you can “piece them together” when it is time to publish the history portion of your documentation. Also, it is best to go to county courthouses to find facts of events (births, deaths, marriages, military service, purchase and sale of property, lawsuits, etc).

I posted the published book on a Microsoft secure cloud storage site and gave family members (150+) restricted access using their e-mail addresses (I capture this in their database records). Now, as I published new or updated documents, I can post them in the cloud storage area and all members automatically have access to the documents. Also, I setup a Group in Facebook and started adding family members to it…we now have 140+ active members in the group that anyone can post to and all members see the postings. This helps with communications on our family reunion we have every-other-year on Father’s Day Weekend.

And last but not least, any information from 1840s or so and earlier is VERY difficult to verify! People want to use the census data and it is typically more inaccurate than accurate and will cause lots of wasted time. Family members and the courthouses are the gems in your research. I wish this site would allow posting of images as I would post examples of the database records, book sections from the database, etc. Hope this helps!


Gene Edmiston

May 16, 2016

Thanks Gene for the helpful information. I have done some trips to seek information in person in Oklahoma, Kansas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts …very rewarding. I appreciate all your good advice.


Pamela Morse

May 16, 2016

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