epidemic of false medieval ancestries for colonial immigrants

+124 votes

The genealogical community is plagued by an epidemic of false noble medieval ancestries of immigrants to colonial America.   Some of these false lineages have been disproven for decades, but the bogus information is still very much "out there" on the internet.  Some of them are based on groundless speculation that has been repeated as "fact" at places like ancestry.com, familysearch.org, the World Family Tree, and various collaborative family trees including wikitree.

This is an issue of special concern to wikitree projects which deal with immigrant ancestors to colonial America, as well as the Magna Carta project of which I am a co-leader  -- there are far too many bogus pedigrees linking immigrant ancestors to Maga Carta barons.  I think this is also an issue of general concern to wikitree, because the presence of so much garbage ancestry damages wikitree's credibility.

How big is this problem?  When I first came to wikitree, I found that about one third of my immigrant ancestors to colonial Plymouth Colony had false ancestries, usually going back to medieval noble families.  Since then I have found repeated evidence that this is part of a widespread general pattern.  And repeatedly, as I have detached false lineages, I have encountered resistance from well-meaning genealogists who are strongly attached to their imaginary ancestors!  I try at all times to be tactful, but sometimes people just don't want to discuss evidence or the lack of it.

For whatever it's worth, I've been stumbling across and debunking false royal ancestries (and getting over repeated disappointment) ever since I was a teenager.

So... how to distinguish genuine medieval lineages from false ones?  For immigrants to colonial America, the starting point is the list of recognized proven "gateway ancestors."  The Magna Carta project has a list of these gateway ancestors here: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Gateway_Ancestors_-_Magna_Carta_Project

If you see a colonial immigrant with an illustrious noble ancestry who is NOT on this list of gateway ancestors, then the ancestry is almost certainly false.  If it is not false, then that immigrant should be added to the list of gateway ancestors!

Further tips for sniffing out false medieval lineages:

1. Check the sources on the wikitree profile.  If the only source is ancestry.com, be suspicious.

2.  Do a google search using the names of the parents of the immigrant ancestor.  If the only results are links to un-sourced personal family tree sites, this is cause for great suspicion.  Proven lineages almost always have at least one high-quality webpage with good documentation.

3.  Check the dates!  Many of these false ancestries are woefully incompetent, showing a parent born ten years before the child (for example), or a parent born a hundred years before the child.  Sometimes the immigrant ancestor has proven grandparents, but it is an earlier generation that has a false link.

4.  Look for sudden jumps from one county in England to a different non-adjacent county.  This often shows that somebody arbitrarily linked two families, based on nothing more than a common surname.

Now, for some examples of bogus medieval pedigrees:

--Robert White (c. 1558 - 1617) of Shalford, Essex at http://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=White-255&public=1 -- all of his children came to America and I've seen the claim that he has more proven American descendants than anybody else.  He has a widely publicized imaginary ancestry, and his wikitree profile gives an example of how to handle false parentage -- detach the "parents" and add links to them in the text.

--Henry Adams (1583-1646)) of Braintree, Massachusetts, ancestor of two American Presidents, at http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Adams-277  -- in this case, his royal ancestry was disproven a while ago (as discussed on his profile), but the bogus ancestry got merged back in, until it was recently pruned.  Lesson here:  these false lineages are like weeds, they keep growing back.

--Here's one from Virginia, that still has its false imaginary ancestry (conclusively disproven by DNA evidence) attached at wikitree:  Ralph Shelton (1685-1733) at http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Shelton-52

And finally, here's a newly-discovered set of possibly bogus acestral lines needing further research, the family tree of Isaac Howland, grandson of Mayflower pilgrim John Howland: http://www.wikitree.com/genealogy/Howland-Family-Tree-97

This tree shows Isaac's maternal grandmother Mary (Atwood) Lee descending, up the Atwood tree a bit, from Margaret Grenville.  If this is correct, then Mary is a new gateway ancestor, because Margaret Grenvill has proven Magna Carta ancestors.  More research needed!  A preliminary google  search gives this suggestive website: http://www.genealogy.com/users/l/e/e/Janet-Lee/FILE/0006text.txt

Isaac Howland's paternal grandmother, Mayflower passenger Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland, was the daughter of Joan (Hurst) Tilley.   Wikitree currently shows Joan's paternal grandmother as Agnes (Dalton) Hurst, which appears to be the worst sort of absolutely groundless internet fabrication.  A good summary of what is actually known about the Hurst family, mentioning reputable published sources, is here: http://www.boydhouse.com/michelle/gorham/henryhurst.html






asked in Policy and Style by J S G2G6 Mach 9 (91.9k points)
retagged by Darlene Athey-Hill
It's part of the Honor Code that we all signed that we cite sources.  

When we create profiles, a source is required.  If you create a profile and write "work in progress" for a source, that will probably get cleaned up by somebody.

"I have little doubt that some folk find Ancestry useful  as a 'finding aid', as long as they take the research further, checking for sources."

Reminds me of that quote I saw last year:

"At least half of what you read on the internet is fake."

- Abraham Lincoln

John, well said - I did just that yesterday: started a thread to engage discussion about, what I believe to be, a fantasy line.  I really had (have) the urge to purge but I went the long (right) way - I've posted it to G2G.  As it is a GED upload with NO documentation, I doubt the G2G thread will get any love (the last two didn't before I cut the branch).


By the way, your link is broken - the text is straight the hyperlink goes somewhere else.
So John, although there is no specified limit to unsourced profiles, (Yes, I have already asked on G2G) it comes down to how someone chooses to interpret the rules, to suit their purpose.

I can't help but wonder, just how many members, admin included, can honestly say they have no unsourced profiles at all. Not many I suspect, if you include those that only offer Ancestry.com as their source.
Christine, great reply.  I really enjoyed reading your story about these ancestors.  It reminds me of a story in my tree that is similar.  When I first started (21 years ago), I know only one ggg grandparent (today I know 31 of 32).  I questioned the family members and my mother told me the story of the one known ggg grandfather.  He was in the Civil War, fought his way through Tennessee and liked it so much that he came and settled there after the Civil War.  And, he was married to one of the Harrison twins.

I began looking, found his Civil War record and sure enough, the 50th Illinois Infantry fought through Tennessee under Grant.  Later, I found his pension being paid to one of the Harrison twins in Tennessee.

Searching the census records I learned his father and mother's names.  A decade later, I was able to find the father in a published book taking the family tree all the way back, through the Revolutionary War, back to Germany, and eventually to France in the 17th century.

This tree was based, at first, solely on the word of my mother.  It took me far longer to find the evidence to support it because it sat only on my computer.  For those in similar circumstances, I'd say to write down your interview with Mom, post it as a free space profile, link to it and create your ancestor's profile.  And don't be surprised when in a decade you get an email from a 3rd cousin who has an extensive tree, letters and photos to back it!
I decided to check my files for all of my first 10 generations of ancestors.

I exported a files with them, and opened it. I removed all "general" sources. I then tagged all people with no sources and no notes, as I have lots of people with sources only in copious notes.

Out of 180 people, 28 had no sources or notes. I looked at names whose spouse or child had notes. The notes of those relatives eliminated all but 8 people with no notes. And 5 of those had real sources on Ancestry, mostly gravestone images. This leaves three, all purported wives whose only data is the first name. I suspect that the source of those was, indeed trees at either Ancestry.com or the FDS website.

Of the additional 4000 or so medieval people in my file, I found an additional 40 or so who had both no notes and no real sources, and were not unnamed, unidentified, no data spouses (which my program automatically generates as a parent.).  I did not check for notes of relatives. I've always been very careful of these. This is an example of what being careful can do. Many which do have sources are to reliable secondary or tertiary sources such as Richardson, the Complete Peerage, or Scots Peerage. Most earliest people are well documented in the Henry Project. I do have a few "long lines" of Irish and Welsh kings that are only documented in academic papers: these are iffy references. I do consider Cawley or Keats-Rohan to be so very unreliable that I do not use them as sole sources.

@ SJ Baty -- I fixed the link, thanks for pointing that out.

@ Tim Perry -- I'm no longer a leader at wikitree, but back in the day I was one of the prime movers getting the pre-1700 badge developed, and I supported the idea of a further pre-1500 badge (which didn't happen until later).  

I'm not a leader anymore, so the following is just my personal opinion and understanding of things:  

You ask how many wikitree leaders have zero un-sourced profiles.  Perhaps it is also good to ask how many wikitree leaders have a pre-1500 badge.  The pre-1500 badges are supposed to be hard to get, to prevent people from spreading the epidemic of false medieval lineages.  Here's another question: How many leaders with a pre-1500 badge have ever -- after they got the badge -- created a profile with no sources?  That number should be zero.

Unless they changed the rules (I haven't checked), to get the pre-1500 badge you have to create a well-sourced and well-organized  pre-1700 profile,  And then the profile has to be reviewed by a leader with a pre-1500 badge.  Perhaps there was some confusion toward the beginning, and some people got the pre-1500 badge without showing that they're up to speed on proper sources.  But I'm just guessing.  When they implemented the pre-1500 badge, I was happily retired as a "leader emeritus," improving the profiles of my own family tree, which includes tracking down old gedcom imports that I had forgotten to add sources to.  I still stumble across some of those from time to time, usually siblings or in-laws of direct ancestors.

So anyway, can you show a well-done pre-1700 profile that you made?  If you have any interest, you can click here for links to my old nominations for Profile of the Week.

While I didn't read every post here, yet.... The links posted on Henry Adams doesn't work.  nor does the one on Janet Lee ?    I'll continue reading and please pardon if I missed a new link or information on these two.   I'm only half way thru the page.



the link _to_ Henry Adams didn't work for me. Found him [here] (Adams-277, like stated, but the link in the original post had a trailing space attached that broke the link). Once there, I clicked on a bunch of links (I think I got them all) and the only one that went to a "page not found" was http://www.concentric.net/~pvb/GEN/hadam.html (although it appeared twice in the footnotes). However, it was captured by archive.org's WayBack Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20050215210436/http://www.concentric.net/~pvb/GEN/hadam.html

Quite a useful list you've compiled.

I wonder if there is a way to detect royal pedigree by searching the ship names on which our ancestor's arrived?


10 Answers

+32 votes
Best answer

Our Magna Carta project overlaps both the European Aristocrats and the Puritan Great Migration projects, and both of those projects have the same headaches as we do with false pedigrees.

UPDATE 20 May 2015 -

Magna Carta project has created a page to register fake lineages:

Popular Errors in Colonial and Medieval Lineages

I think Rhian's idea for creating a space for the proven errors is great - why should we all keep reinventing the wheel, so to speak. Once a lineage has been documented as false, it could be where any of the three project's members or any other person can look it up to see the details.

Kathy Patterson and Darlene Athey, also Jillaine Smith and Chris Hoyt and Vic Watt - would you like to have the Magna Carta project create a space where the false pedigrees can be listed by anyone from any of the three projects? It would be futile for each of the projects to keep their own list when they overlap. John has already started a page on this, which is in the process of being reorganized so each surname is linked to the page with the details on the false pedigree. We began with the false pedigrees all on one page, and that is becoming a master list linking to separate pages for the different questionable lineages.

It's at the top of our to do list - or would one of you prefer to tackle it?

Your thoughts on whether such a page is wanted - (all three projects could link to it).

Should we have a category:questionable pedigree which could be placed on profiles with this kind of issue, to make it easier to keep track of them while they are being properly sourced and reorganized?

answered by April Dauenhauer G2G6 Pilot (106k points)
edited by April Dauenhauer
April, I think this is an excellent idea.  I don't have time to set it up (sorry!), but am totally in favor of it and willing to discuss if there are questions/decisions re: setting it up.

Hi April Dauenhauer,   

Thank you for your post. 

  1. Do folks think the information/text in the contemplated  "spaces" would receive/benefit from the same search engine coverage as postings to G2G? Somewhat similarly, do folks think the biographical text on profile pages receive the same coverage, etc. as posts on G2G?
  2. What kind of content (details) would be sought for qualifying cases? Readability?  
    These cases are not easy to write up, expecially as names, relationships and historical documents about any number of persons are often involved. Even more challenging to produce supporting content that hits the mark for a broad audience with diverse interests. Consider the content may benefit from an accompanying abstract. (Maybe not a Twitter friendly version, but closer to it.)

    P.S. Many foks prefer to use their limited time to research those to whom they _are_ related. More often than not, debunking and explaining a falsehood calls for research about those to whom you are probably not related.
  3. "Errors in Print" and cross referencing.
    If the project took off, would at some point it require something like Rob Ton's proposal in "Should we give sources their own pages?"
  4. Integration
    How would the "space" content be integrated to WikiTree profiles? G2G? . 

As some of the question above probably suggest, not having to "reinvent the wheel" seems to require some technology support.  

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.--GeneJ


GeneJ X -


Thank you for bringing up very good questions which I had not considered.

With just the few examples Magna Carta project has examined, it is clear to me that a search engine for the questionable lineage pages would be not only desireable but actually necessary for it to be truly effective. As more questionable lineages are posted it will become an insurmountable task to search them manually.

An abstract would be preferrable, and without a search engine it would be necessary.

Many people are already spending more time than they would wish on keeping the false pedigrees out of famous profiles. If we had them documented and searchable, at least those same people could just send a link to the person wanting to insert questionable ancestors. Defenders of lineal integrity could quickly refresh their memories on what ancestors, and why, would be excluded. Instead of everyone who is currently curating the vulnerable profiles of famous people having to keep their own notes, such notes and warnings and discoveries could all be in the same, searchable database where new problem lineages could be posted and so everyone would benefit from sharing knowledge.

Since many of the false pedigrees have already been documented here and there, organizing links to those place would be a great shortcut for numerous problems.

In the long run, the question is too often not about whether or not one will spend the time, but simply which way it will be spent - in repeating the same look-ups and explanations, or in building the searchable database with others so all that is needed is a link on the profile that attracts fake pedigrees.

Such a project would only be as extensive as those who are working on it desire.

How to integrate the 'space' content into WikiTree profiles or G2G is beyond my knowldege.

You are right GeneJ, technology support would be needed.

I think Kimball is the perfect person to lead such a project. Although at first it seemed to be something which could be under the Magna Carta umbrella, it is much greater in scope and implementation than I could see -- very much its own project, and a very important one which would be a marvelous help to the biggest projects on WikiTree - PGM and euoaristo as well as Magna Carta and others.

I can help the project, and its leaders-to-be such as Kimball, with clerical tasks but have no knowledge of the false pedigrees, such as Kimball does or John Schmeeckle and Becky Syphers have.

I can only hope there will be popular support for the Popular Errors project, as it is greatly needed by the community.

April D.D.

I can shed some light on Douglas Richardson's and Gary Boyd Roberts' books.  I'm a good friend of Gary and the editor of Douglas' books.  Douglas and Gary are also good friends, but calling them associates isn't quite right. 

The scope and objectives of the books are different.  Douglas' work is far more ambitious, as its size suggests, but it covers a smaller set of American immigrants.  Gary's work covers all immigrants, so very many of its 600+ folks are 20th century immigrants from whom almost no one descends. 

Douglas' work only covers 17th century immigrants.  But even some of those with known medieval ancestry are not included for various reasons.  Most of the immigrants included are fairly closely related to other included immigrants.  Those with long, rambling, undistinguished ancestry, and unrelated to other immigrants, are not included.  Others with unquestionable medieval ancestry, but some difficulty documenting a single generation, are not included.

I've repeatedly argued that he needed to include a list of those not included so that people would know why, but such a list has always been too low a priority to create.  The point is, just because an immigrant is not included in Douglas' Royal Ancestry series, does not mean he believes the descent is in error, though it could.

Thank you so much Kimball, for explaining what was included included in Richardson's books and why. It is a great help to understand the scope of his books.
Perhaps a practical question related to Roberts' and Richardson's books is in order:  Is the 17th-century immigrant Peter Worden-3 a bona fide gateway ancestor?  His lineage appears -- without documentation -- in Roberts, and is conveniently copied at this website: http://washington.ancestryregister.com/WORDEN00006.htm#i799

Do we add Peter Worden as a new gateway ancestor based solely on Roberts' reputation?  Or possibly the research has been done somewhere -- I simply don't know.  How many other examples like Worden are included in Roberts' book?  50 or 100?  If so, there are bound to be a lot of pre-existing wikitree lineages from these people back to Magna Carta barons.

As Kimball pointed out in relation to Richardson's book, some well-known lineages were omitted because they have a single "unproven" generation.  How do we evaluate such situations here at wikitree?  Whose standard of proof are we using?  I've had situations in the past where other experienced researchers have refused to embrace conclusions that I felt were obvious.

If a not-quite-proven lineage is widely accepted on the internet, how should we handle this at wikitree?  Maybe the lineage really is proven, but some people are being too conservative in their judgment.  How do we handle a situation, for example, where Richardson and Roberts disagree?  I know of one case where experienced medieval genealogists have refused to embrace Richardson's conclusion regarding a Champernoun descent from King John.  Is Richardson being too loose with the evidence?  Do we need a way for wikitree to speak with its own voice on such questions?  Do we have sufficient collective expertise to maintain a credible public opinion?  My personal opinion in this case is that Richardson's conclusion is plausible, but nobody (not even Richardson) has done justice to the biographical facts of the matter, as far as I have seen.

Perhaps there is the need for some type of forum or arbitration committee to discuss such issues.  Who decides what are the appropriate standards of evidence?

I'm going to give a practical example, that of Edward Prideaux-147.   My personal opinion is that there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude that Edward is the son of Francis Prideaux-85.  And Edward has three presumed brothers -- what about them?  (The case supporting each one as a son of Francis is different, but they are mutually supporting.)  And was Francis Prideaux really the grandson of Ann Moyle-309?  That one is my own discovery, contradicting a commonly-accepted Gifford lineage that I proved to be false ("ob. s.p." -- end of story).

There are Magna Carta and royal lineages at stake with this Prideaux/Moyle example, as well as 19th-century descendants who immigrated to the United States.  I have written a detailed summary of the evidence, with links to the individual profiles, at http://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=Space:Magna_Carta_1215&public=1#Edward_and_James_Prideaux
John, Your points are are all well done. I do not have many answers but certainly have confidence in your research.

Roberts gives a bibliography without embedded footnotes, that is, he puts his sources down at the end of a profile or lineage and one is left ot search each one for whatever particular proofs may be had. This is not the WikiTree standard, which is to provide embedded footnotes linked to sources for each and every fact in a profile. I must say I was disappointed.

No one of course can be perfect, and I'm sure Richardson would be the first to agree there could be a fault in his work here or there, because he is constantly updating his books, removing gateway ancestors whose references have not met his standards, and adding new ones he has discovered.

We need members of the PGM, Medieval Ancestors, and Mayflower projects to speak to the issues you raise.
Re: Using space pages for keeping track of false ancestries

I'd be more inclined to use project subpages. If we did create Project:Popular Errors, we could have subpages for different projects, regions, etc. For example, Acadian myths could be at Project:Popular Errors/Acadian Myths.

I suppose space pages could work just as well, though. As long as they're open, anyone can still edit them. Just personal preference I suppose.
Hi John,

Do hope you start a thread on some of the topics your comment raises.  

In my experience, authors and publishers don't exclude a generation because they are being too conservative.

If there was a bias in authored materials, it is probably the other way around. Especially early authored works often connected too many families of the same surname. They may have sold a lot of books in the process, but family historians have been paying the price ever since.

The authors we are talking about in this thread care much about their body of work. They often have have a knowledge of the source material and a worthy historical perspective. It is cool to be involved at a time when so much good stuff is happening.

In the case of my own family, more than one ancestor has been linked to a line that has since been discredited (lack of historical foundation).

Hi Lianne,

John and I have decided to go with your suggestion of a Popular Errors page linked to our Magna Carta project - for now. It is better to have something and keep it simple than to wait on the staff being available to technically support a big 'errors' project.

We welcome Kimball's input, and input from all of the knowledgeable leaders whose project profiles overlap ours.

Our project has entered a new phase, connecting every generation between the colonial Gateway Ancestors and the Magna Carta Surety Barons, with a Magna Carta Template on each profile in the lineage.

There is simply too much to accomplish on our project, to work on a large Errors project at this time. Maybe in the future it can be added to a special database and automated.

Look for the link to our "Popular errors" page on the Magna Carta home page by this evening, to be filled in as time permits.



I would like to add a small, but important caveat here. Whilst the work of Richardson et al is very useful, nothing is carved in tablets of stone. The fact that a researcher has not found evidence, does not disprove anything, it is simply unproven, NOT proven to be true or false.

All the illustrious names in research belong to humans, fallible, just like you and I. No-one has sole custody of the truth, bestowed by divine providence.

I am the first to admit that opinions are just that, regardless who voiced them.
I would suggest a much simpler, more rational solution, rather than rubbish work that someone has perhaps spent years on.

Why not have information that has been verified displayed in black, and that which has not been sourced displayed in blue. Thus highlighting that which may require further investigation, without causing offense, and no need for demands on any profile for sources.

We are all doing our best to get it right, and because someone's mother may be in doubt, that is no cause to disregard everything else. As the old saying goes, "It's a wise child that knows it's own father", and although useful, DNA, contrary to popular belief, is not infallible.
THANK YOU for this.
+19 votes

Perhaps as well as Space:Gateway_Ancestors_-_Magna_Carta_Project you could create a space for the proven errors, like those you list and one for those needing more research to prove or disprove.

answered by R. G. G2G6 Pilot (212k points)

I am very familiar with this the Bacon line was affected by Gustav-Anjou, described as: "an infamous genealogical inventor whose meticulous but fraudulent research influenced the family "histories" of many prominent American families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

Here is more information on him and how he affected the genalogies of so many colonial immigrant geneaalogies.

Gustave Anjou


Wow... thank you for that link; I forsee a huge project going through wikitree and checking on that huge list of families *gulp*.  I did a google search using "fraudulent lineages" and came up with the following resource at Cyndi's list: "Myths, Hoaxes, and Scams: Fakes and Falsehoods" http://www.cyndislist.com/myths/fakes/

And I think Rhian's suggestion of a space for bogus lineages is the way to go -- that way we'll have a resource to show new members why their lovely new additions aren't being accepted.
I believe giving space to erroneous and problematic lines would be very useful. My Robert Royce and William Allen would be likely candidates for such a page.
+22 votes
This was a huge problem with my earliest ancestor - http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Grant-201 - where numerous false parents were linked to him over and over, most likely based on incorrect data for the LDS sites.  I became a bit unravelled once when I had to re-connect the majority of 100 years of descendants after one person butchered his site.  I hope we can continue to improve this aspect of wikitree, as these old profiles are too old to be private, yet still need to be protected from well-meaning folks with very bad data.
answered by Geoff Grant G2G1 (1.7k points)
+21 votes

A considerable amount of my work at WikiTree has been organizing and documenting profiles for people whose identity and ancestry has been misunderstood, misrepresented, or lied about.  A good example is [Du_Bois-12|Chr├ętien du Bois] for whom 5 different erroneous ancestries, 1 erroneous son, 1 erroneous wife and 2 completely fictitious wives, have been published.  As has been noted, people keep adding and merging the same errors, notwithstanding the very extensive documentation I've provided.

Some better way must be found to stop people from adding and merging documented errors.

Part of the problem has been that the WikiTree compare view has cut off the profiles so that one must scroll down through each profile separately to view the text where all the information about genealogical errors is.  Most people haven't done this.  I note that this has recently changed so that a larger amount of each profile is shown.  This is great!  Though, I would extend it even more.  But I think this creates an opportunity that might help!

If we create a Popular Errors project, we could create a really obnoxious logo to put at the top of the text.  This should be able to be seen in the WikiTree compare view.  A project is also a good way to promote that identifying and overcoming a popular error is a good thing, not just a sad loss of previously beloved ancestors.  It could include various categories like published errors, frauds, and specific sources like Gustave Anjou and the Horn Papers.  It would be a project that all other projects could use as a resource.  Disputed information could be included, though handled differently.

I've just become co-leader of the New Netherland Settlers group and Liz will remotely kick me for saying this, but this is a project I would like to work on.  As I don't know how to run a project, I'd need help from several of you.  

answered by Kimball Everingham G2G6 (6.5k points)

"Some better way must be found ..." 

"good way to promote that identifying and overcoming a popular error is a good thing, not just a sad loss of previously beloved ancestors."

Thumbs up. 

Kimball, a Popular Errors project is just what is needed, and I hope you will be leader.

If you do, I can spend some time on the more clerical tasks (lists, sorting, editing) and hope you will get a lot of support from people knowledgable in erroneous pedigrees.

April D.D.
Aside from PGM, Magna Carta, and Mayflower, more projects which have been plagued with Popular Errors are Descendants of Pocahontas, US Presidents, and as you pointed out Kimball, New Netherlands.

While some of them like New Netherlands may not overlap so much as some others like Pocahontas and PGM for example, it still seems to me that a central searchable information bank of Popular Errors is a better route than each project making their own lists.
The Acadians project also struggles with repeatedly fixing the same few imaginary ancestries that get added again and again (everyone wants to trace their Acadian ancestors back to France, but usually the records just aren't there). If a Popular Errors project is started, I'd be happy to contribute some Acadian Myths.
Right off the bat I can think of two things that can be done.

For profiles that are repeatedly changed, there should be a mechanism whereby new changes are logged, broadcast, and then held for a period - say 30 days, for others to comment before they are enacted.  For example, for a person who constantly has erroenus parents added, the next time someone adds new parents, the new parents would show as "pending for 30 days awaiting consensus & comments."  If one of the regulars to that profile sees that it is an erroneous entry, they could click to block the change and leave a comment why.  In this way, the profile would be preserved without having to go back and do the same work again.

A second (and similar) way would be for the old tree (the profile before the changes were made) to be preserved for some time, say 90 days or 6 months and if it is seen that an erroneous change is made, instead of changing it back, the change could be just undone or canceled.
J Baty, the post on which you just commented is almost four years old.  Since then, a few things have been put into place to help with the issues:  you now have to be pre-1500 certified and you can't import a gedcom with pre-1500 people.
Add check boxes for sources. It won't stop people putting in false details, but it will encourage them to try and find and include real details, and more details. It would also make it quicker and easier to verify details.

Alive. Tick!

Personally known. Tick!

Personally verified by known family. Tick! (In family photos etc)

Photos. Tick! Upload...

Birth registration. Tick! Details....

Baptism registration. Tick! Details...

Marriage registration. Tick! Details...

War records. Tick! Details....

Death Registration. Tick! Details....

Burial records. Tick! Details....

Grave site. Tick! Details.... Photo.

Peerage Listing. Tick! Details....

Other books. Tick! Details.....

Other genealogy sites. Tick! Weblinks...

Other web references. Tick! Weblinks...
+13 votes

Hello John and all!

Because he has been mentioned here...

I have just completed a pretty thorough, if I do say so myself, and sourced overhaul of the biography of Peter Worden, and as a member of the Magna Carta Project I am also working on documenting his Trail. As noted in his bio thus far, he has one line which Richardson (Royal Ancestry) accepts, and another unproven line to five (!) more MCSBs which some genealogists accept but Richardson does not. The accepted line to de Ros is the one I will be Trailing. I admit I'm hoping not to find gaps in it, but if found I shall surely concede them.

What sort of weight should we give to Gateway Ancestor organizations like the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the USA? The DAR old SAR applications I've seen on Ancestry.com are super-problematic, so existence of an exclusive org doesn't by itself prove anything, but perhaps some orgs' standards are more rigorous than others?

I'm also a Winslows descendant and I totally don't buy their claims to royal ancestry (note the particularly clumsy and transparent attempts to bolt on poor Ellen Unknown as a daughter of Peter; it's a terrible hack job and it offends my sensibilities), although I suppose that's easy for me to say since I believe I still have the Wordens to fall back on!  ;)

answered by Cheryl Hammond G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
edited by Cheryl Hammond
In regards to the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in USA, the sources they recommend http://www.charlemagne.org/Sources.html mostly look reliable (apart from Turton, which I think is now considered very problematic for some lines).

However I think the best genealogy uses primary sources and if the're not available for whatever reason, then secondary sources that quote primary sources are the second best option.  My recommendation would be not to use the Order, but try to access those sources they rely on, such as Richardson, or Cokayne, which we know are well-researched and present a more detailed study of the genealogy of the period.

As an aside I did look at their articles about Charlemagne, but given that none of these appear to refer to any sources, it does make me question the rigourousness of the research on the entire site.


Hi Cheryl,
Congrats on the impressive profile of Peter Worden!  That's a great example for others.

As of course you know, the Magna Carta Project's "gold standard" is the work of Douglas Richardson, and any lineage that isn't embraced by Richardson needs to be double-checked VERY carefully.  This means that a lot of lineage societies accept questionable lines with weak links that should be discussed on WikiTree G2G threads before making a final decision.

Along the same line, Gary Boyd Roberts is a well-known genealogist who has published a well-regarded but unreliable book entitled Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies.  Douglas Richardson only accepts 200 or so of these lineages, so does that mean that Roberts has 400 dubious lineages in his book?

One example is Christopher Branch, an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson.  In the earlier edition of Roberts' book, he accepted a line that goes through one of three wives of Christopher's grandfather William Branch, although there is no proof about which wife was the mother of Christopher's father, oops.  In the most recent edition of Roberts' book, he tacks William's wife's lineage onto William's MOTHER, based on a "forthcoming" article that was never published, oops.  There is a G2G thread about Christopher Branch's lineage here: http://www.wikitree.com/g2g/126701/magna-carta-ancestry-for-christopher-branch

To use a more plausible example, Richardson hasn't embraced the lineage of James Veitch, although many others have.  Malcolm Veitch of Scotland had a son James who was the right age to have been the immigrant to Virginia.  There, that's the "proof." And granted, Veitch is an uncommon name, and James of Virginia was a well-to-do gentleman.   Is that good enough for you?  Good enough for WikiTree?  It IS good enough for Gary Boyd Roberts, good enough for Burke's Peerage, and good enough for the King of Arms of Scotland!   James Veitch's parents have been detached, but perhaps they should be added back?  James Veitch's wikitree profile (with extended discussion of this issue) is here: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Veitch-6

And here's an even better one:  William "the Extravagant" Aubrey mentioned sons Harry and John in his will.  Many people (but not Richardson) have accepted that these two sons were the same as Henry and John Aubrey, immigrants to America.  It seems likely to me, but... is the double-match of names good enough?  I started a G2G thread on this here: http://www.wikitree.com/g2g/116689/what-evidence-is-there-for-the-parentage-of-henry-awbrey

So far, Henry and John Aubrey's parents haven't been detached, but maybe they should be.  How to decide...

In summary, if it's not accepted by Richardson, then we have to carefully examine a lineage no matter how many others have endorsed it.

Cheryl -

Outstanding job on Peter Worden! That is a wonderful example for a profile. Well done!

First off, before any hereditary society discussion, the work you're showing here clearly meets a standard that any of them would admire. 

Interesting that you mention DAR. One thing to keep in mind, that I learned as a member of SAR, SAR does not consider any DAR or SAR record copies that are pre-1970s reliable. They will now only accept their own work, post 1970ish, with all the check marks and signatures for each generation. The check marks, if you're not familiar with them, are the registrars marks for each date, location, and connection. 

My impression is that a lot of the hoops you have to jump through today with SAR are a direct result of how poor their standards were in the past. Some of these "hoops" are relevant to the genealogy, while many are just aiming for consistency (I've had a package returned because I didn't cite a gravestone the way the registrar prefers).

I would say that the modern era SAR/DAR record copies, with all the check marks, are generally pretty solid. If you can stomach the returned packages of gravestone formats, etc.

Beyond SAR/DAR, the groups do vary in terms of their standards. Generally, it does seems that the more recent the record copies are, the better.

Of course, to go back to Charlemagne, DAR/SAR probably are not very good comparisons. Revolutionary War groups are far more geared towards volume of applications and the lines are far shorter. The local and state Registrars are very concerned with format, kicking applications back for anything that may not be "standard".

Even a Mayflower line, which in my case was more than twice the number of generations in my Revolutionary War lines, is really only the half-way point to Charlemagne.

To the Mayflower Society's credit, they were outstanding. If you give the Library an outline of the line you think is correct, for a token amount ($20?) they produce a package that shows where your line overlaps with other valid lines they have accepted already and they show every proof for each generation. They'll even shoot you copies of the proofs. The person at the state level, who I dealt with, was a genealogist who knew her stuff and handled all the formatting. 

For the Worden line that you're working on, Mowbray-20 is probably one proof away from getting connected to the right father. You know she's a Mowbray... the challenge is where does she connect?

The good news is that millions of records have been added that have yet to be reviewed and researchers like Richardson and others are combing through them every day. This is an amazing time to be a historian and a genealogist.

Again, well done!





Cheryl, do you mean SAR instead of DAR? there are many SAR applications on Ancestry.com and they are usually so wrong that I never look at them. I have never seen a DAR application on Ancestry and think that they do no allow it.
Worden is interesting because apart from the Mowbray question there have been issues in the Sherburne area.  (WikiTree is fixed, but many other websites have the old version.)

What tends to happen is that a garbled version appeared in some Victorian pedigree book and everybody copied it until some modern genealogist got round to looking at primary data and found it didn't fit.  Many basic errors have gone undetected for a long time.  The need to rework everything from primary records instead of relying on the pronouncements of authorities hasn't been understood very long.

Trouble is, very few people are doing that work, so basically most of the genealogy hasn't been done yet, not properly, and in the meantime we make do with what we've got, though many of the sources aren't as good as we'd like.

Richardson's books are state-of-the-art when published.  Work continues, cracks appear, updates are issued.  But you won't get better info in older books, because Richardson knows about those.  It's not like they've got stuff that he hasn't found.

Christine Mowbray is different, because everybody has the same data in front of them, what little there is, but different experts have different ideas as to what it adds up to.  Then there's no right answer.


As for Societies, I suppose the nearest would be BOMC, formerly Order of Runnemede.  The guy in the picture is the same as on the Charlemagne site.

I think they commissioned the original Browning book on Magna Carta.  But in their current incarnation they look like just a vanity thing and don't seem to have got to grips with the genealogy at all.  If they get any applications I doubt they vet them much.
Tom, you are quite right, SAR is correct rather than DAR. I have clarified my answer. :)
+6 votes
Very good points on how to see fabricated lines. Another thing I noted was the line (or link, actually I am referring to my study of the Belgrave line) that was widely claimed. Many many family trees had it listed.

None of the family trees had substantial sources. In addition, some odd things appeared when comparing the family trees' claims.

1. Details especially dates of birth, death and marriage would widely vary. Locations of birth, death and events also varied.

2. Spouses names and ages would vary. Sometimes just slightly different names or dates. But sometimes huge differences.

I would guess the variation comes from many folks just "making up" the linage. It is likely the fabrications would not be identical.

answered by M B G2G6 (8.5k points)
edited by M B
+8 votes
We all are subject to personal bias, even the most experienced among us. (Fantasy works in the system as a powerful drug, and the withdrawal process can be just as difficult and even just as painful as any withdrawal.) Not merely fabricated genealogy, but even the latest "proven" and accepted genealogy, can have this affect, on any of us, blinding everyone to some details which, though always present in the accessible material, cannot be seen until a newbie with blank slate comes along and sees things afresh.
answered by Martyn Mulford G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
I wonder what in this post warrants a down vote? We should really require a justification for that.
I agree Helmut - I "upvoted" it (so it no longer shows a negative number). Some folks bring Facebook standards to WikiTree and erroneously consider a down vote akin to a "sad" FB face. And sometimes a mouse gets a mind of its own & downvotes something against the user's intent (my mice have always been better behaved than that :D).
Now that I've begun, just recently, using my Moto phone for internet sometimes, I see how very easily one can hit the down vote by accident, especially with my really poor eyesight. Fortunately, I've found, one can quickly change an accidental vote if one catches it.
+7 votes
After 21 years of research, I finally came to Wikitree to post my tree.

As I am posting ancestors, sometimes I enter them as a new profile and sometimes I see that someone has already created that profile.

I have to say that after 21 years, my tree is quite wide and deep.  But even so, I've found a few surprises along the way.  I found at least 3 links to noble families and I spent the better part of last month researching two of them.  In both cases, I find that they are fantasy links.

Yesterday, I worked on the third and it is also a fantasy.

In each case, EVERY source is a link to another tree OR a link to a book that doesn't provide the link but it is assumed.

So, in a tree with 31 of 32 found great-great-great grandparents and at least a dozen lines going back to the 1600', I find 100% of the "noble" links are bogus, I can't help but wonder if 99% of the supposed noble links that people believe are also fake?

I was just looking at a 2015 G2G wherein a man couldn't work out the relationship finder for his Mayflower ancestor.  Some folks helped him to sort it out.  I entered the same info and the link is now broken - broken all the way to his great grandparents (I checked each of them).  It seems that he had this link based on a bad record and someone researched and broke that link.
answered by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (112k points)
Some valid points made, but I have to say that there is also an eagerness to dismiss all claims of aristocratic heritage. It is  a simple mathematical fact that every one of us has a connection of some sort, if you can find it.

I agree that it is often counter productive to break links unless you have positive proofs. It's almost as if there is a kind of inverted snobbery behind much of it, but I very much doubt that many folk claiming royal descent are therefore assuming superiority. If proven, a fact is just a fact, nothing more or less.

Consider, 2 parents - 4 grandparents - 8 great grandparents .... this figure rises exponentially with each generation, until you reach a number that far exceeds the sum total of humans that have ever lived. Therefore, we clearly all share far more ancestors than we might suspect. DNA tests of a persons ethnicity will show a surprising array of races within each of us.

The fact that you have not yet found documentary evidence is not proof either way, it does not prove or disprove. General consensus only shows what we choose to believe, human nature is such that we ignore or dismiss that which does not gel with our preconceptions.

"The fact that you have not yet found documentary evidence is not proof either way, it does not prove or disprove."

Sure, but when we make a record that John was the father of Sam, it doesn't matter if John and Sam are related 12 generations past, we're trying to set the record for individual (person to person lineage) connections.  If there is no proof that Sam is the son of John, then putting it on the net is disingenuous.  I see no snobbery in removing a false link that is not based on a genuine source.

S. J. Baty, define 'a genuine source'. I note that a great many profiles show Ancestry.com as their source, since when have they been 'a genuine source' ?

I was able to substantiate the profile I was dealing with, both with the heralds visitation, and also the individuals last will and testament, how much more proof do you require ?
If you read my other posts in this thread you'll see that I give an interview with Grandma as much weight as I do a book published by an historian.

If I ask Grandma the names of her parents, where she grew up, and I document it in an academic way, this is the same as a book you would find in a university or the library.

As for Ancestry, no, I don't every consider it a source; it is merely a reference.  Citing Ancestry.com as your source makes as much sense as citing Google.  I'd go even farther and say that so many of these "references" I see "Ancestry profile 7767663, roll 1373," are useless as well.  No link, no text, no reference to the facts = nothing.

And so, I believe that documentary evidence is ANY evidence that has been documented.  If you create a free space page and write down your notes of your interview with Grandma, that IS documentary evidence.  

I think you and I agree, we're just crossing lines on how we say it.
+3 votes
I've spent the better part of this week researching some ancestors and I regularly look at the Ancestry.com "fact" sheets because they often have (direct) links to the census forms rather than searching by name.  This saves a lot of time, especially when a Thomas is listed on the census as "Tho" or George as "Geo."

In doing this, I see that at least 1/2 of what is linked in Ancestry for the 18th century isn't just unsourced, it is flat wrong.  Again and again I see the wrong parents attached to children - sometimes to an uncle or aunt, sometimes to a completely different family line.  Sometimes I email the person who posted but there is just so much of this junk that you could send a decade and not clear it all out.

I really hope that, as Wikitree grows in popularity, we don't get a flood of bad recordings.

Here is a "for example," in this case, I emailed the poster and the record was removed, she claimed a typo - but this, unfortunately, is more common than not.

In this pic, we have an Ancestry member who posted a "photo" - a screen shot from their family tree:


We can see that John Carter was born in 1765.

And when we click on the photo, we see this:


His mother was born in 1652.  And he was the third child!  If we figure ~ 2 years for subsequent children, ole Katherine Dale was knocking kids out until 1771 - at the ripe age of 119 years old!

What is most astonishing is that this very record shows her dead by 1703.  Imagine, having childen 68 years past dead and burried.

In a perfect world, you would click the Ancestry.com "BS" button and it would be reviewed and removed.

Luckily, the person who posted this record saw the logic and took it down.  But I've emailed tens (hundreds?) of these without reply and they're still up years later.
answered by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (112k points)
The flood hit WikiTree about 2011.

I think many people are number-blind.  They just don't see the story in the dates.

Beyond that, I think there are attitude issues.  There's a strong streak of "not my fault".  It's like, "I shouldn't have to learn how to do this stuff.  And I shouldn't have to work too hard.  If it hasn't been made easy enough, that's not my fault.  If the stuff in the books and websites is wrong, that's not my fault.  I'm entitled to have it the way I found it."
+3 votes
It takes hours of work to get an unsourced and probably erroneous link to parents removed, yet the error only took seconds to create. You can still find them all over the place. Been working on half a dozen this Easter alone. Don't really mind as the work is quite satisfying when done. However these don't appear out of thin air. They are all out there somewhere waiting to invade again. Is there, or should there be, a questionable offspring project? Protecting the parents does no good as things stand but a project that protected all the children who for whatever reason might be falsely linked might help. Between us we must know a lot of the likely candidates. Writing a biography of someone who is said by historians to have had no children then having to account for children posted on Wikitree makes the whole thing rather silly. Such accounts belong on the profiles of the alleged, usually unsourced, children. I keep wanting to slap unsourced on profiles with lots of sources and interesting work done in the Americas and no sources that establish the notable parents at all. Very un-Wiki but I think Wikitree is the only Wiki where the errors spread out and corrupt a lot of the good work that is being done. Am I just baying at the moon?
answered by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Mach 8 (87.1k points)
No.  You are not baying - I'm right there with you.

I've followed the steps:

remove the link

make an annotation

create a link back to the bad link profile

& I've even gone as far as posting a note (warning) that the fantasy parents are not the real parents.  I'm hoping that anyone who comes to make the same link in the future will look, read and become educated.

If not, and they create a bad link, I see no problem with removing it, posting a new note and sending them a friendly message that their 9x great grandfather was a fisherman and not an Arch-duke.

Related questions

+5 votes
2 answers
774 views asked Nov 28, 2014 in Genealogy Help by J S G2G6 Mach 9 (91.9k points)
+15 votes
5 answers
+6 votes
0 answers
226 views asked Sep 28, 2016 in Genealogy Help by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 4 (46.4k points)
+22 votes
4 answers
+25 votes
4 answers
+4 votes
1 answer
278 views asked Nov 30, 2014 in Genealogy Help by J S G2G6 Mach 9 (91.9k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright