Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Follow the Herd

When researching your family history, it's easy to become overly excited when you stumble upon the ultimate gold mine:  a completed branch of your family tree that someone else has already researched... or so you think.

But BEWARE!  So much of "internet genealogy" is nothing more than folklore.  So many people online are eager to post their so-called family trees, but what they neglect to do is actually research the line themselves or provide any documentation whatsoever.  Just because someone else says it's so, doesn't mean that it actually is.

I have stumbled upon this time and time again, and by conducting my own thorough research, have actually debunked lots of family tree "myths" that are currently circulating on the internet.

Case in point:  The Washington Family

The publications that can be found on the Washington family are endless, from small-time family history books to reknowned genealogical publications... and it seems that everyone (and their mother) tries to connect to one specific line of the Washington family, all the way back to one specific immigrant ancestor: Colonel John Washington of Westmoreland County, Virginia.  Colonel John Washington was an ancestor of General George Washington, the first President of the United States, and was a very prominent man in Virginia history.  So, of course, it would be pretty cool to be able to claim him as an ancestor.

I was thrilled at the idea of having this Washington line as part of my family tree, and I kept finding publication after publication that said that my Richard Washington (I had proved my lineage up to this point) was the son of Colonel John Washington.  Hooray! (I thought, but - thankfully - I didn't stop digging there.)

While Colonel John Washington certainly existed and has left an impressive list of descendants, my Richard Washington was actually the son of ANOTHER John Washington, living at the same time in Surry County, Virginia, several counties away.  Two guys with the same name at the same time in about the same place.  This happens all too often but can easily be overlooked if in-depth research isn't conducted.  The key in finding the truth - in this example - was due to the examination of land records in Virginia.  Close observation of these deeds made it apparent that there were two John Washingtons.

But here's the cool thing...  I didn't miss out on being able to claim a famous ancestor, just because I'm not linked directly to Colonel John.  I'm still a Washington.  In all reality, Colonel John Washington and my John Washington of Surry County, Virginia, are believed to be first cousins.  They share the same grandfather and the same Royal Ancestral lineage. 

So, don't follow the herd.  Just because it's easier to go along with the information that is already out there, doesn't make that information accurate.  Do your own digging.  You might stumble upon a fact that's even more exciting than you had anticipated... and, more importantly, you can leave a legacy of quality and reliable research for others family researchers who will follow.  Just remember to cite your sources.


  1. Hi, I found your website today and I have read some good posts over here. I just wanna thanks you for sharing it so we all can learn about it!

  2. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.

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