EVERYTHING is a Working Theory: Beware of Sacred Cows
The Patchwork Genealogist tweeted “is this sufficient proof” and it made me think of all the times I have had to revise my tree or lop off a branch because new, or better information became available. My Blog post Keeping it Accurate was on correcting errors from long standing genealogies that have been proved wrong.
I am happy to report that this has resulted in a change in the organization’s selling of a document that was demonstrably false. And yet, there are still people who get so attached to a branch of their tree, that they are loathe to lop it off even when they know it doesn’t belong to them. I don’t really get that. Don’t we all want to claim the ancestors that are truly ours, rather than to accrue mythological ones? Perhaps it’s because I have scientists in my family and lived and breathed the scientific method that I have no illusions about getting it right.
If you take risks, you’ll make mistakes. If you are me, you make a lot of them. But the good news is you get so used to making mistakes, that you don’t mind having to correct and revise what you got wrong. You no longer worry about perfectly executed trees and proofs, because you know you aren’t done yet and it will get fixed at the next revision. Sometimes it’s your own carelessness and sometimes it’s accepting someone else’s work as settled fact. Sometimes it’s just a simple transcription error that leads you down the wrong path. But whatever it is I just swallow my pride, wash the egg off my face and dump that load of papers in the circular file.
I am a methodical researcher but not a linear one. I go around in circles. [See the Scientific method diagram above.] I have learned, rather than berate myself for retracing my steps, I look at it as a second opportunity to revisit something I missed. And know it works well for me in the long run.
Remember I said I take risks. I risk being wrong, but if I am right I break new ground. I turn up more clues, develop new working theories. Some professionals are loathe to admit this, but it’s all just theories folks. Let me take a sacred cow. Let’s say we have a certain Mayflower ancestor and 2 million people claim descent from that person and 3,852 got into a lineage society because of it. And let us say that the father of record was not the true father. Whoops. All those people have perfectly sourced trees, they pay a lot of money and proudly display the “proof ” and they are all wrong. They have matching YDNA so it looks all nicely proven until someone puts together 13 YDNA descendants of the alleged man’s family back in England and well as my friend Jean says, everything just went sideways.I am not saying this is true—I am saying it could be.
Think I am wildly off base here. Royals are often very reluctant to do DNA tests. Wonder why? I don’t. Things are often not as they seem. So while we are all working to better source our trees, and improve our documentation. Always remember we humans are messy. We don’t move in straight lines. What we do, doesn’t always make sense on paper. It’s all just a work in progress. It’s all just a working theory until a better one comes along.
I have written two rather extensive research pieces on “Conjectures on the Origins of Robert WHEATON” of Salem and Rehoboth, Massachusetts. They are both wrong. I have been thinking of writing a new one with my newest information and theory. One of these days I will get it right. Bottom line: Don’t let the rule makers get you down. They like to make you think they know the truth. They often don’t. The good ones know, it’s always a work in progress. Dare to make mistakes. Correct them and move on. Learning from mistakes, is it’s own reward.
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