27/08/2013 08:52 BST | Updated 26/10/2013 06:12 BST

Genealogy Key Question: Avoiding Predetermination: What Are You Seeking in Your Ancestry?

Genealogy Key Question: Avoiding Predetermination. What Are You Seeking in Your Ancestry?

If you are a regular follower of my writing here on Huffington Post UK, my website, Onward To Our Past®, Findmypast, or our Onward To Our Past® Facebook page, you know that I recently lost my Mum. While it has been an emotional rollercoaster, one of the thoughts that returns to me time and again is that our family has lost its matriarch and the fact that this also signals the end of a generation in our family.


During this time of grieving and reminiscing, I have strengthened my belief, even more, regarding how important it is that I capture the true people my parents were. There are so many stories, memories, and perceptions of them. Each depending on if you were their child, grandchild, great grandchild, cousin, niece, nephew, sibling, etc.

As a genealogist and family historian, naturally I also began to also think more about this aspect as it relates to everyone on our family tree. The question arose in my mind was this: What is it that any of us are looking for in our ancestry?

Frequently I hear folks who are working on their family history talk about their desire to find royalty, perhaps a celebrity, a Prime Minister, being one of the 102 on the Mayflower, or the like. Often these conversations lead me to believe that many folks often seem to have some preconceived notion of what they want to find or how they will focus their search.

On the other side are the folks who know that trying to predetermine your ancestral path is putting the cart way before the horse. This approach reminds me of Ray Kinsella's famous line from Field of Dreams "If you build it, they will come." Predeterminations and preconceptions in genealogy can lead to a lot of erroneous researching, questionable decision making, poor theorizing, and can result in a family tree built to suit the imagination and desires, rather than the truth of one's ancestry.

We do a grave injustice to our family history and our very ancestors when we try and seek anything other than the truth of who they were and what they were. In a family tree, no one's position is dictated by rank or privilege. In my tree the gravedigger has the same position as the blind postman and the same as that of our Knight and Members of Parliament.

No one is free of warts, blemishes or errors in judgment. No mortal has ever been perfect. As my wonderfully insightful father-in-law frequently used to say to his children and then to his grandchildren: "Sometimes the straightest line is drawn with a crooked pencil."

This philosophy has continuously guided me in my genealogy work. It has kept me focused on capturing my ancestors as the people they truly were; warts and all. Successes and failures. Titan of industry or Skid Row wino. Our mission in genealogy is to find, study, and document each. Then to place them on our family trees with pride and most of all to try and learn from the multitude of lessons held within the lives of each of these magnificent and complex human beings.


Only when we capture and learn these lessons do the fabulous tapestries of our heritage begin to take form. Only when we truly see and understand from whence we came, from what stuff we are built, and take steps to protect and preserve the very essence of each of our family members do we begin to do justice to our heritage.

Our families and our ancestors merit no less than this. They deserve the truth as we can find it.

Onward To Our Past®