Genealogical Aspects of DNA Surname Project Administration
This page reviews the genealogical aspect functions of administering a genetic
genealogy (abbreviated GG) project for a surname.
Genealogy is obvoulsy important top genetic genealogy. It's been said
that "DNA suggests but paper trails confirm.". (A paper trail is the
documentation for a genealogy.)
The purpose of genetics in "genetic genealogy" is to support (not take
over) the genealogy -- by which we mean traditional, documentary genealogy.
It is, therefore, important for a project admin to have a firm grasp of
genealogical methods, approaches and resources.
For a common and multi-origin surname, such as Taylor, the list of required
skills and knowledge can become quite long and varied.
Two organizations seek to improve quality in genealogy,
Board for Certification of Genealogists and
Society. Also see _
- How to proceed
Reversing the process assures frustration; you'd need to researhc many
lineages that have no relation to yourself. For example, my grandfather
(also a genealogist) tried tracing his Liles ancestors from past to
(his) present. After 40 years of work, among his many "possibles" was a line
two generations short of making the connection; he died before knowing it.
- Start with the known -- e.g., yourself, the present
- Work toward the unknown -- e.g., your ancestors, the past
- Take one step at a time from known to unknown.
Short-cuts can be disastrous. Fro example, many trees on the
Internet are wrong; they can lead you down false trails.
- Sources, information & evidence
Use the best evidence available. Conclusions by others are only clues and should be
- Sources may be of either of two types
- Original -- Original sources are the first recordings (documents,
pictures or objects) of an event.
-- Derivative sources are copies of the original. As the process of
copying can introduce departures from the original (errers, image
- The information in the sources to support genealogical
statements should be sufficiently cited so that another could independently
evaluate your work; they come in two types
A record may be a primary source for some matters but a secondary
source for others.
Primary sources are better than secondary but aren't always available.
BTW, most published trees are poor sources.
- Primary records are made by a witness close in time to
- Secondary records are made by other than a witness or long after the
- Evidence is of two types
A record may provide direct evidence of some things and indirect
evidence of others.
- Direct evidence speaks directly to the question at hand
- Indirect evidence implies an answer but is not in itself definitive.
generally, it takes more indirect evidence than direct to establish a
supposition as fact.
Only one piece of direct evidence may be necessary; several pieces of
indirect evidence may be required.
- Reasonably exhaustive search -- just because you haven't found contravening evidence doesn't
necessarily mean it doesn't exist.
- Logic: Every genealogical statement is a result of one or more
conclusions. the logic linking the pieces of evidence into a conclusion is as
important as the evidence itself.
Real genealogy, as opposed to "tree copying", is hard work. It
is, though, much more satisfying because it comes from honest work.
The more difficult a genealogical question is, the more useful the scientific method becomes. It consists of these steps.
- Have a question
- Do preliminary background research
- Formulate the question as a hypothesis which can be tested with evidence.
It should be a yes/no question, not open-ended.
- Determine the type of evidence needed to test the hypothesis
- Gather evidence. (This is where the "reasonably exhaustive search"
comes in.) )
- Analyze the evidence and draw a conclusion.
- Write a "proof statement".
Genealogical Time Frame
Genealogy is restricted to the time when we can -- by credible evidence
-- identify specific ancestors by
names, dates, places &/or other characteristics. Verifiable facts are key.
If we can not identify a specific person, it's not genealogy. Nor, without
evidence, is it genealogy; the story is then myth.
Some stories are suspect on their faces. The evidence may degrade and
disappear over centuries, the standard for proof doesn't
These identification and evidentiary requirements limit genealogy to the
period of written history and, specifically, official documentation of one's
ancestors. A pragmatic limit is universal surname (inherited family name)
adoption. This is not the same
time as initial surname use; surnames were first used by elites comprising a
small fraction of the total population. For most of us, most of our ancestors
There are many resources which a genealogist can use. Some key resources:
- Census enumerations are direct evidence of a person and
family living in a specific [place at a particular time. They are also
indirect evidence of relationships and, sometimes, direct evidence.
Censuses have been done every decade, begging 1790 in the United States,
1791 in the UNited Kingdom. The original purpose was to determine
legislative representation but has been broadened widely.
- Tax lists partly substitute for missing censuses.
- Wills & estate administrations are direct evidence of a person's
death and sometimes relationships. A person must have been alive to make
a will but deceased by the time the will or estate goes to court.
- Deeds and other land records.
- Civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths are
direct evidence for the events they record and the participants. They
begin in the UK about 1838 and in the US at various times until the
early 20th century.
- Church records may fill in gaps in civil registrations of
births, marriages and deaths, although they were not maintained by all
denominations. Notable for record-keeping are Cathollcs, Church of
england and Quakers. The UK parish records begin about 1533, though some
have been lost.
- Court records are a surprisingly good resource and not only
if your ancestors were criminals. They probably were jurors or
witnesses. Further, courts were the whole local government in many
places; they assessed and collected taxes, ordered and oversaw road
construction, granted tavern and ferry permits, etc., etc.
- Military records. In the American colonial period, every
able-bodied male between ages 16 & 60 was required to serve in the local
militia; must rolls are also direct evidence of a person's place and
Many of these records are preserved in state archives.
There are so many different Taylor families, the project admin team doesn't
conduct research for the members -- except in unusual
cases when an admin or co-admin may volunteer to help. However, the team
encourages members and offers advice and tips
for them to pursue.
See some of the explorations conducted and tools developed
A TFG admin or co-admin will have the opportunity to see many
member-submitted genealogies. Some will be of excellent quality, thoroughly
researched and documented with appropriate source citations. Others will be
(to put mildly) slipshod and contain obvious errors. Examples:
- Subsequent generation born before prior generation.
- Subsequent generation born before prior generation attains puberty.
- Birth at an impossible (or highly unlikely) time and place, e.g.,
Alabama before ~1800.
Among the common errors in Taylor genealogy is the "Zachary myth", that
the member's patriline is shared with Zachary Taylor, 12th US President.
The romantic notion is false much more often than true. (For the real Zachary family, see
Related to this is the "Rowland myth", that Zachary's patriline was that of
the Protestant martyr. (See the excellent work of
Nat Taylor and
Ann Blomquist.) And, also the "Taliaferro myth" of descent from a lieutenant
of William the Conqueror.
In line with not conducting research, the project neither censors nor vouches
for members' genealogies. However, we do try to assist members to correct
A natural human tendency is to look harder for evidence of what we already believe and weight it more heavily than evidence to the contrary.
"My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts." We prefer confirmation of
what we "know" over suggestions that we're wrong.
It is usually, BTW, unproductive to try arguing anyone out of their
confirmation biases. The more the belief is challenged, the stronger it becomes.
Once a person has invested ego into a belief, they will protect and defend that
While we don't censor member-submitted trees, project administrators are
often asked their honest opinions of those trees. To comply, you need to be
a "diagnostic genealogist". There are some signs and symptoms
that a tree may not be reliable; when any appear, an evaluator is right to question the
- Famous ancestors (Zachary Taylor, Rowland Taylor, Taliaferro,
etc.) or royalty: It's tempting to claim a glorious heritage, hard to prove.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; they can not be taken at face value.
- Back to Adam: With few exceptions, it's not really possible for a
genealogy to be accurate more than a thousand years back and in most cases
half that time; the evidence does not exist. (See Genealogical Time Frame)
- Conflict with verifiable fact. For example, James Taylor (d.
1692, K&Q Co., VA) could not -- despite Mary Taylor Brewer's claim --
have been born in Cumbria's Pennington Castle; it was destroyed in the
12th century and never rebuilt. By James' birth, if was just a mound
surrounded by a ditch.
Another example: "Just tonight, I was working on one of my
g-g-g-grandfather's who died in 1763 in Virginia. OK. Why did about 75
other people attach Revolutionary War records to him? The poor man died
about 15 years BEFORE the Revolution, you idiots. Does 1776 ring any
- Copying known errors: Certain genealogical errors have gained
notoriety (among the cognoscenti); when these errors are presented a fact,
it signals sloppy work.
- Absence of key details: Birth and death places are as important
as dates to tell one Taylor from another. If the date is known with
precision and confidence, the place (down to the county) should be too.
Common surname, conflation
Another common error arises from the commonness of the Taylor surname. It
is among the 15 most-frequent names in the US and was previously among the
top 5. In England, it still is.
When this fact is combined with the tendency to choose forenames from a
limited list (Robert, James, William, etc.), it means that records with the
same forename and surname can not be presumed to refer to the same person.
There were, for example, at least four separate men named
Abraham Taylor in Maryland during the late 1600s. And, that was among
only 20,000 Marylanders!
Additional genealogical markers (occupation, wife or child's name, etc.)
must be found to establish identity.
Confusing one man with another, "squeezing" two or more into one identity,
is called "conflation" and it occurs often with novice Taylor genealogists.
Psychologically, conflation is a symptom of dementia.
An estimated 20% (or more) of Taylors have
iNPE in their paternal pedigrees. There will be times when it seems obvious
they have no matches with any Taylor and significant matches with another
surname. Be wary; these can present delicate situations. To avoid trouble:
- Let the member take the lead. Don't mention NPE until necessary. For
example, let them ask "Why am I brick-walled at my great-grandfather?"
- Don't press the issue. If the member takes umbrage, let it go until
- Don't say illegitimacy or adultery, unless buried in a list. These
are only two of many possible NPE explanations.
In another type, eNPE; the member will match the Taylor surname but not
others. Let them join the project before discussing.