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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.) 

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.

Principles

Two organizations seek to improve quality in genealogy, Board for Certification of Genealogists and National Genealogical Society. Also see _

  1. How to proceed
    1. Start with the known -- e.g., yourself, the present
    2. Work toward the unknown -- e.g., your ancestors, the past
    3. Take one step at a time from known to unknown.
    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.
    Short-cuts can be disastrous. Fro example, many trees on the Internet are wrong; they can lead you down false trails. 
     
  2. Sources, information & evidence
    1. Sources may be of either of two types
      • Original -- Original sources are the first recordings (documents, pictures or objects) of an event.
      • Derivative -- Derivative sources are copies of the original. As the process of copying can introduce departures from the original (errers, image degradation, etc.)
         
    2. 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 
      1. Primary records are made by a witness close in time to the event
      2. Secondary records are made by other than a witness or long after the event
      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.
       
    3. Evidence is of two types
      1. Direct evidence speaks directly to the question at hand
      2. 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.
      A record may provide direct evidence of some things and indirect evidence of others.
      Only one piece of direct evidence may be necessary; several pieces of indirect evidence may be required.
    4. Reasonably exhaustive search -- just because you haven't found contravening evidence doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist.
       
    Use the best evidence available. Conclusions by others are only clues and should be independently evaluated.
     
  3. 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.

Scientific Method

The more difficult a genealogical question is, the more useful the scientific method becomes. It consists of these steps.

  1. Have a question
  2. Do preliminary background research
  3. Formulate the question as a hypothesis which can be tested with evidence. It should be a yes/no question, not open-ended.
  4. Determine the type of evidence needed to test the hypothesis
  5. Gather evidence. (This is where the "reasonably exhaustive search" comes in.) )
  6. Analyze the evidence and draw a conclusion.
  7. 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 were commoners.

Resources

There are many resources which a genealogist can use. Some key resources:

Many of these records are preserved in state archives.

TFG Genealogy

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 here.

Evaluating Genealogies

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:

  1. Subsequent generation born before prior generation.
  2. Subsequent generation born before prior generation attains puberty.
  3. 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 R1b-002.)

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 errors.

Confirmation Bias

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 investment.

Red Flags

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 entire structure:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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 bells?"
  4. Copying known errors: Certain genealogical errors have gained notoriety (among the cognoscenti); when these errors are presented a fact, it signals sloppy work. 
  5. 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.

NPE

An estimated 20% (or more) of Taylors have  iNPE in their paternal pedigrees. There will be times when it seems obvious (to you); they have no matches with any Taylor and significant matches with another surname. Be wary; these can present delicate situations. To avoid trouble:

  1. 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?"
  2. Don't press the issue. If the member takes umbrage, let it go until they're ready.
  3. 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.