A little food for thought.

+10 votes
I'm not trying to make an argument, or prove a point, but this thought occurs to me.

As historians, we take a great pride in the accuracy of our records, but it's just possible that we are fooling ourselves.

It is generally accepted that marriage and birth records are proof of a line of descent, but in fact neither are a proof of fidelity, as some folk are discovering with the advent of DNA testing.

Certainly, we take care to be as accurate as we can, but it would be extraordinarily arrogant to suppose that everything is proven fact.
in The Tree House by Tim Perry G2G6 Mach 3 (33.4k points)

6 Answers

+14 votes
Well, at least the maternal line has a better chance of proving descent!
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Perhaps so, but in some parts of the world incest is rather common, and that clouds the picture.

Also, it is well documented that at times certain people have allowed their wives and daughters to serve as concubines to royalty, in the hope of gaining status and influence.

If a woman finds herself pregnant, she is unlikely to tell her husband it is not his. Ignorance is bliss, and he can be fooled into raising a cuckold.
But the mother is the mother, she knew who she gave birth to (well the majority of the time) and so did her mother and her mother before her.
The mother may wish to keep a secret though, and a woman who is raped may not know the identity of her rapist.

he can be fooled into raising a cuckold.


A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife, not the child of such a union. 

The child might be termed a "cuckoo in the nest", but it is not a cuckold. 

But following the maternal line needs no knowledge of the paternal.
With illegitimate children being raised by aunts and grandparents as their own, the maternal line may not be followed accurately either.
Whatever you elect to call it, the child is still illegitimate, and some would say so is the child born by artificial insemination. When breeding animals by this means, great care is taken to record the semen donor, but not so for humans. One reason we record an animal semen donor, is to track genetic defects and hereditary disease should they occur.

From a genealogist's  view, recording only the maternal side is at best only half the story, no better than those that only record the supposed paternal line.

I'm not sure how we can guarantee an accurate account, and if we cannot, then how does that reflect upon any pedigree ?
+7 votes
It's not just fidelity. In Iowa, for example, at the request of the husband of a woman who conceives by artificial insemination from an anonymous donor, the husband is listed on the birth certificate as the natural father.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 9 (92.2k points)
Agreed, I have even read that there is at least one place in America where a man can marry his horse. Thankfully, there can be no issue from such a thing.
+7 votes
With DNA we (new cousin) who was adopted and I) found that our grandma (b1898) had an affair or a fling rather-- that the son (who father to new cousin) she had-- is not the son of the thought to be of the biological father (her grandfather), They may have not known...all have passed away but the granddaughter (new cousin) and I share our DNA and she shares to our grandma and her biological father and the fling grandma had was with our grandma's brother-in-law (brother in law to the husband of grandma's) which ends being her real grandfather. It didn't help that our grandma married so many times(4), but hard lines to link to can be figured out, even if it is a surprise.

--Happy Researching, Lori
by Lori Cook G2G6 Mach 2 (27.8k points)
+6 votes
Depends.  which is more importantt to the make up of a child, contributing DNA or raising a child from birth?
by Anonymous Nagel G2G6 Mach 3 (32.5k points)
I guess it depends upon how we view our work. If you are a genealogist, then it becomes very important to know who your actual ancestors were.

If you are just constructing something to display to others, then perhaps it matters less, as long as we don't pretend that it's entirely factual.
I disagree, Tim,  and I'm certainly not  interested in a vanity tree.  I am very interested in my family history.

In most cases, I believe what matters is the environment that a child was brought up in and the opportunities they had in life.

Whether  https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Stuart-31 (the Old Pretender) came into the birthing chamber in a warming pan or was truly the male heir was a subject of   speculation at the time. Who knows?  It doesn't  really matter.  James II accepted him as his male heir. This acceptance determined both his own  later life and subsequent English history.

If  the wife of one of  my ag lab ancestors had an unlikely dalliance or some sort of droit de seigneur event  with the local landowner, the resultant child still grew up  in an ag labs cottage, in spite of his Lordship's genes.
+2 votes
I see an interesting parallel with research into primate behavior.  Scientists studying primates have known for a while that both sexes occasionally "cheat" on their mates.  As a parallel to "birth records" and other documents, primate researchers can only rely on observation of family groups--they have no way to know if one of the baby chimps raised by a mother were actually the product of a chimp "tryst". Only the DNA tells the real story.
by Michael Schell G2G6 Mach 4 (40.8k points)
I'm not aware that any of our ape cousins practice monogamy. Gorillas keep a harem of females; female chimpanzees mate with every male in the troop; and bonobos basically have a free-for-all. Makes me wonder if Aleister Crowley, "the Wickedest Man in the World" with his bisexual love cult was really onto something.
+7 votes
Yes! Primary sources are not always correct. Every record type has its strengths and weaknesses. In order to evaluate evidence, we need to know how those records were created and what the inherent weaknesses are.
by Living Ford G2G6 Pilot (147k points)

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