TSGS Cruiser Blog

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Red Flags"


When you see a red flag it is a serious warning of some sort.

While researching your family history, you will come across red flags all of the time. You have to look for them as you try to determine the validity of the information you gather. Just recently a fellow researcher sent me some new information on one of my lines with a big red flag waving at me immediately. The information was without sources [red flag all over this info], but the big red flag was that the claimed father died four (that's 4) years before the son was born. There is something wrong here... that just does not happen! So, the red flag should pop-up in your mind to suspect this information. A genealogist has to be a good detective and good researcher... you do not have to know everything, but you need to know to follow-up on info and know where to look to verify information. Rarely should we just accept something because someone has it in their database or family tree without citation of legitimate sources (documents - primary sources) or at least a discussion of the logic in arriving at the theory being offered.

So, here we have this father that seems to give birth long after he is dead. How do we check it out? If the information had a source (for the death date) we could go to it and find that there was a typo error on the date or that it was valid. You need to check the birth date of the son, too! How was the date determined (no source listed again). This means that you can not accept the father/son relationship until you prove it is so. Just because it is printed in a book, on the Internet or sent to you by your very "smart" cousin does not make it correct... someone needs to prove it; otherwise, it is just a guess or theory that needs to be proven. Generally, if the red flag pops up and there are no sources to work with, I tend to think it is probably false... just wishful dreaming.

Another Red flag should pop-up when someone says: "I have conducted a complete (or exhaustive) search and there is no records available to prove my theory, so we must accept it on the basis of circumstantial evidence." This means they do not know where else to search and have given up - basically, they are willing to accept a guess or theory as fact. The person that had the father who died 4 years before the supposed birth (after I pointed it out) stated they never noticed that gap. But, gaps and other problems have red flags that we should be looking for.

I hope the idea of "red flags" is helpful to researchers to question what they find or receive from others. We should always ask, "how do you know that?" Another question: "Is this really proof?" I plan to include "More Red Flags" in future articles. If you have some "red flags" send them in to me, I will give you credit for the warning you point out.

- Written by JGWest


Don Counts said...

The following quote from the "Red Flag" article "father died four (that's 4) years before the son was born" is possible in today's world. Men in the military that are being deployed may elect to have their sperm frozen in case they do not return. The same thing is happening because of desease or career in order to postpone having a child.

John G. West said...

Don, you are correct, I even thought about saying just that. I decided to not say it since that was not possible back in 1714. Thanks for adding the comment.