THINGS I HAVE LEARNED. . .
As I have spent many years researching the origins and background of various given families (such as the Yanceys and the Nanney families) - it is interesting the things one comes to learn - that really only come with time and various experiences repeated over the years.
The following are some thoughts and ideas for others facing research obstacles. Much of this really isn't "rocket science" - and I don't really think I'm any smarter than the average other person - who has spent the same amount of time and years I have in doing family research. Also - each person's experience is different and unique and thus everyone's opinions and feelings may be different - - -but these are some of mine:
WHEN YOU HIT THE BRICK WALL of MISSING INFORMATION
As people attempt to trace their lineage back generation after generation they will eventually reach a point in the genealogical tree at which the information on such ancestors becomes very scarce if not non-existent. There may be relationships that are suspected but not proven. There may be no clear links to the generations of the Old World . There may be great gaps of missing information and ultimately no information at all beyond a certain point. Different researchers will respond differently to this "brick wall" of missing genealogical information beyond which they seem to be blocked. Some of the more "purists" in the field of family history - will simply include in their compilations only that information that can be backed up with concrete evidence. Others on the opposite side of the spectrum will include family information that has been passed down, educated guesses, family legends, and even wild stabs in the dark about what such missing information may be - - - all of it mixed together with no clear indication of what is what - what is documented, what is suspected based on circumstantial evidence, what is an educated guess and what is a stab in the dark. Most people are somewhere in the middle wanting to provide more than the "purist" and provide some sort of room for educated guesses but also trying to indicate that which has been documented by primary evidence and classifying the alleged facts into different categories according to sources and reliability of sources. It is this last "type" of family researcher I most appreciate dealing with though they are rare - - - but all too often it is the second type that have compiled family publications that have been passed down from one generation to the next often with little, if and it is up to us to go back and try and categorize their collected so called "genealogical facts" into some sort of system of weighing the validity and reliability. For years I was not able to make much progress in my analysis of the very earliest Yanceys in America - since there was so much conflicting information that to me seemed like a bowl of spaghetti. It was only after I categorized the information into that which could be backed up by primary source documents and that which could not that I was able to make progress.
When one compiles family information together - it is information about the "origins" of a specific family that is often the information with the highest probability of being downright wrong. People all so often supplement the skimpy details they have compiled about the origin of a certain family or surname with supplemental information to fill in the blanks. One interesting paradox is the fact that misinformation often is given more weight than NO information at all. Case in point is the Yancey family who according to popular family stories came in 1642 to America with Sir William Berkeley. There are all sorts of claims about them that maybe they were killed by Indians, that they were probably stow aways, or others claiming they must have had connections with Sir William Berkeley - - - Though none of these claims can be found to be based on any real evidence - - - yet it is often hard to counter such claims when there is a total lack of information for the period for the Yanceys. In all probability the Yancey family never came to America until about 1700 and this is the most probable reason for the lack of information and if this was true - all these stories would turn out to be false. BUT people being people they would rather cling to at least something they have been told (even if it is total hogwash) - - -rather than stick to nothing (because the information doesnt exist). Its hard to fight something with nothing - - - and so we seem to have so many people passing around family stories that in all probability are based on fabrication and/or down right false information for the period in question (1642-1700) - but no one seems to be able to put these stories in their proper place of plausibility - simply due to there NOT being any documented evidence for the Yanceys of this time period - to prove or disprove the alleged claims.
Here is another discussion of this topic: http://yanceyfamilygenealogy.org/ynewbie.htm
Any researcher in virtually any area of study will have some degree of bias based on their unique experiences and their motives and mode of research. It is virtually impossible to avoid all bias. However it is something we should try to keep to a minimum in our own research. And as we compile information from other sources we at least need to be conscious of bias that may have played a role in the "alleged facts" compiled in such information. A great example of this are the genealogies/lines of descent traced with the intent of gaining membership into some lineage society of note such as the "Daughters of the American Revolution DAR), or other such lineage based societies. Some persons are so focused on trying to obtain membership in such societies that they will allow their bias and motive to cause them to even twist or misrepresent information with the sole intent of gaining membership. Nowadays the DAR and other similar societies are usually much better at "vetting" the validity of the information than they were for many years but even now much supplemental information (beyond the mere proof of line of descent) is accepted by many as if it was fact when it often couldnt be further from the truth. I have seen various DAR application forms filled with erroneous information. Very similar cases exist for people such as those trying to establish connection to a famous person such as Pocahontas it is really amazing how many unfounded claims there are of people saying they descend from the Indian Princess or just the claim that some ancestor was Native American with virtually nothing to back up such a claim. Another source of bias common among people tracing family trees is the hope of connecting to a line of royal descent such as the English Royal Family or other European royal families. Case in point is the Nanney family of Wales that supposedly links back to one Cadwgan ap Bleddyn whose lineage can be traced back into Welsh and English Royalty and even traced back into the Biblical genealogies back to Adam. One has to seriously consider the factors of bias and motive by those who originally created these family trees many centuries ago. This important discussion points to the very real possibility that the Nanney line traced back to Cadwgan is seriously flawed.
Another thing that often seems to happen when comparing genealogical data between multiple sources is that of one person or group bent on "sticking to their claim" even when they cant point to anything concrete and seem to either be sticking to some "gut feeling" that they cant articulate or just as often, people stuck on their pride and not being willing to admit that they could be wrong. Or other people that wont even consider an option because it means accepting the fact that they descend from some person they dont want to be descended from. All of this kind of sounds silly but I think most anyone who has done research over various years has bumped into such people at some point in your years of research.
BLAME IT ON MISSING INFORMATION
Many people so easily default to the idea that "all the records have apparently been lost" . . . so such and such COULD be true even if there is no evidence for it. Yes it is true that many records have been lost (the Virginia Burned Counties as an example) - - - but this should not be interpreted to mean that every single ever recorded mention of a person or family has somehow disappeared into a black hole.The following page discusses this subject: http://yanceyfamilygenealogy.org/virginia_burned_record_counties.htm
PEOPLE DIDN'T CARE ABOUT SPELLING LIKE WE DO
Way too many people place way too much emphasis on things like Spelling. Examples are the people that simply because a record has a different spelling they make the judgment that such a family must be a different non connected one. Consistency in spelling is a thing of the 20th century coupled with literacy improvements and reliance on computerized standard records. Consistency in prior centuries was not nearly what it was then. In documents of the 16 and 1700s it is not uncommon to see a name spelled various ways EVEN in the same document. Records like census schedules and the sort are full of examples where the census taker may have spelled the name as he heard it and one has to be sure to use multiple spellings in computerized indexes to ensure that you pick up the greatest number of "hits"
Here is another discussion of this topic: http://www.genealogy.com/62_donna.html
FAMILY STORIES THAT CANT BE BACKED UP WITH DOCUMENTED FACTS
At times you will find information in family histories and compilations that cant (at the time) be backed up by known sources/documents. You will find people that tend to throw such information out with the comment that it cant be proven and you will find others who have no problem with the lack of sources and simply stating that all the records that would have provided such a claim have been lost. I am one to admit that just because a specific family claim doesnt have documented sources to back it up doesnt mean it should be thrown out the window. BUT lets be fair, however, and differentiate between a family story that has indeed been passed down from one generation to the next over the years as compared to some fabrication made by an over zealous person trying to make some connection to this or that. Is there evidence that the family story or claim was indeed passed down form generation to generation - - or is this some claim that seems to merely appear out of no where at some point in the mid 20th century linked to some person compilation of a family book. If family stories are true there should at least be some circumstantial evidence of the time period when the event cited occurred. Also with the event of the Internet and computerized records so many of which earlier generations never had access to that it is almost certain we will have more information at our hands then earlier researchers. Does current information provide more or less information that that which earlier researchers had at their hands? Bad assumptions or false conclusions - - will often be brought to light with time as more information is found at our finger tips. On the contrary information by early researchers which was correct but lacked supporting evidence - - - will often be solved over time as additional sources are found or indexed/computerized. This trend of either more conflicting or more supporting evidence over time is a very strong indicator of whether something is true or not.
WHEN DID THE 'SUPPOSED" FAMILY STORY ACTUALLY COME INTO EXISTENCE??
Many families can be traced back for at least a few hundred years. The most common place to find a "brick wall" of missing information is at the point they immigrated to a new land (such as America). Though family stories and legends can turn out to be wrong - especially if they are not supported by evidence. Even then a family story that can be shown to have been passed down from one generation to the next over various decades and starting NEAR the time of the events of the family story - - carries much much more weight in plausibility - than a story that appears - seemingly out of no where - only in recent decades. There are various cases of this in the Yancey family - of stories concerning family origin - that have only showed up only in the latter 1900's. Case in point is the claim that the Yancey name is of Native American origin. Such a story has never been passed down in FAMILY records - though in the late 1900's such a claim did show up in various "Name Origin" books. It would seem that such claims originated from people who knew really nothing of the family - but misinterpreted info they found that states the name was "native to America." You can find similar cases claiming that the Yancey is of Dutch origin, or that it is linked to the word Yankee . . . and numerous other theories - that should NOT be confused with real "family stories" that have indeed been passed down through family records across many generations. Be wary of "family stories" that really aren't family stories that have been passed down - but rather inventions of people in the latter 20th century - often over zealous in trying to propagate their version of a family story or claim.
HOW DO FAMILY STORIES GET SO TWISTED
For information on this topic click here: http://yanceyfamilygenealogy.org/errors6.htm
IF ITS IN PRINT IT MUST BE TRUE MENTALITY
Avoid the "Just because its in print it must be correct" mentality. Way too many people have the mentality that just because "Aunt Smith researched the family for 30 years and included such information in her book on the family " that it must be true. Just because something is in print does NOT mean it cant be a fabrication, a wild stab in the dark, an error in compilation, an error in printing, or simply a false assumption by the compiler. Case in point are various claims that the Kavanaugh family that the Yanceys married into originally held 40,000 acres in Virginia when in reality it appears this was a printing error in one early volume on the family and should have been 4000. Its a simple printing error but the difference between the two numbers would have been the difference between the family being a member of the aristocracy and that of the middle class. Another classic example in the Yancey family is the book by Rebecca L Yancey concerning the descendants of William Layton Yancey and wife - - - an incredible book on the family and my "hats off" to the author for her mammoth project that took this author most of her life to compile. And yet one also has to honestly and ** note the fact that the book is RIFE with all sort of errors not intentional of course and in all fairness with the tools that the people had to work with and with all the inherent flaws of the publishing process - - the amount of errors becomes understandable - - and one has to assume that such errors will and do exist in published resources and find ways to cross check such information with independent sources.
In summary - - - dont assume just because its in print it must be correct. Find ways to cross check information and take it for granted that there WILL be bad information in virtually all sources (even primary sources to a lesser degree)
CROSS CHECKING MULTIPLE SOURCES - AND WEIGHING EACH ONE DIFFERENTLY
Try to cross check your data with primary sources.
as you do try to cross check compiled information with other sources - - - try to compare it with sources that will have the highest degree of reliability for such information. As an example if you wanted to confirm the death year of an ancestor the inclusion of their obituary in a local newspaper in an edition with a specific day/month/year will be extremely reliable information as to the death year. Think about it - - what are the chances of a persons obituary showing up in a newspaper in a year that they didnt actually die - - - such an anomaly would almost be unheard of. Yet sticking with the obituary example OTHER information in the obituary such as date and place of birth - - - would have a much greater chance of being inaccurate information. Genealogists often use the rule that the document or item which records a specific item CLOSEST to when the actual event occurred should be the one that carries the greatest weight in ascertaining validity - - -to further clarify this sometimes confusing rule - - -lets take the case of a grave marker. (and lets assume the grave marker was placed very close to the time of death/burial and not many years later). Although errors on grave markers sometimes happen the probability of the DEATH date on a grave marker would be much more probable of being accurate that the BIRTH DATE on the grave marker this is because the person making the grave marker would KNOW more or less when the death occurred - - -BUT would often have no clue when the birth occurred other than what the family told him - - and even the family could have supplied misinformation. So in the case of grave markers the date of DEATH which was engraved on the marker more or less at the time of the death/burial would hold MUCH more weight that the validity of the birth information on a grave marker. Similar things would apply to death certificates, marriage certificates and other primary sources where some of the information on the item may hold much more weight than other items on the document that may be much more prone to error. Generally speaking the primary sources (such as grave stones, bible records, death certificates, birth certificates) would hold more weight than a simple collection of supposed facts in some genealogy book with no reference to sources.) However this is not to imply that there are not errors even on primary source documents such as a grave marker that had a bad date but was never corrected because the person paying for it didnt have the money to pay for the re-engraving.
In summary - - - one has to compare multiple sources and try and ascertain which group of sources has the greatest probability of being correct when backed up by other sources noting that the source document that is closest in date proximity to the actual event being recorded
Here is some great information on the subject: http://www.progenealogists.com/evidenceevaluation.htm
DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN - WILD GUESSES AND EDUCATED GUESSES - POSSIBILITY VERSUS REAL PLAUSIBILITY
As one weighs different theories about something to do with the family - - such as how the surname came into existence. Realize that it is unfair to give the same weight to a simple wild guess of something that could be possible - with something that is an educated guess based on at least circumstantial evidence, associated facts, and other related evidence. Although this may seem like common sense - - - its amazing the people who cling to theories that fly totally against this principle. There are many examples to point at. For example some people point to the idea (that someone seems to have made a wild guess at some point) that the Yancey name is a corruption of the name Jantje or similar other names of Dutch origin. Could this be true - - - SURE it could!!!! Virtually anything in this world has some degree of possibility. BUT is there any even shred of evidence - circumstantial or relational that points to some DUTCH connection in relation to SPECIFIC early members of the Yancey family?? I know of nothing. And yet people pass this along like it was a real plausible answer. In my opinion we MUST put such wild guesses on one level of probability as it were - and a totally different level of much higher probability when using associated facts/people/events/places that may point with circumstantial evidence with a higher degree of weight to a specific theory. I would say that the theory that the Yanceys came from the British Isles - would fall under this category - because of all the associated evidence. It is NOT just some wild guess of possibilities - - - it is based on known attributes of the family and those they associated with.