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Conflation

This page is about the genealogical error known as conflation. It is to be avoided because it leads the genealogist down false paths.

Conflation is the merging of identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places sharing some characteristics of one another into a single identity. The differences become lost.

Here, we focus on confusing two individuals with being only one.

Examples

Internet Articles

Personal

In the author's own research two separate and unrelated men were conflated into one. They shared only a surname, county of residence and overlapping life spans.

A previous researcher conflated the two into Abraham Lawrence Taylor. Some of Lawrence's attributes were mistakenly credited to Abraham, inhibiting further genealogy until the mistake was identified and corrected. Among other problems, Abraham's descendants were assigned the middle name "Lawrence" with no evidence. Infuriatingly, the erroneous information has been copied prodigiously across the Internet.

Identifying Conflation

Conflation is difficult to identify because it contains some elements of truth, as well as the false conclusions. Independent and often detailed research is required,

Begin by reviewing all evidentiary sources cited. Evaluate them as to quality and whether they are correctly interpreted. In the absence of source citations, assume that some error (not necessarily conflation) has been made.

Then conduct a "reasonably exhaustive search" for additional of the relevant time and place for other individuals who might have been an object ofconflation.

Avoiding Conflation

To avoid committing conflation

  1. Use good sources. Primary sources are best, but secondary sources (such as compilations or abstracts of primary records) may serve.
  2. Constrain conjectures and logical leaps. Don't go beyond what you know from the sources.