The potential client needs to be advised and educated. As professional genealogists we have an obligation to educate our clients, or our own reputations can be damaged. There need be no fear of hurting anyone’s feelings by questioning their genealogy; that’s why they come to us.

Permit me to share a case involving a purported “accurate” Royal lineage found the Internet.

A client wanted to verify a lineage tracing his family line back to Edward IV, King of England, and the possibility of joining a lineage society. His information came from a questionable on-line database. I talked with him about his goals, and the reality of genealogy research, noting that membership in any society requires detailed documentation of every generation on a line, and the events of each generation. Even accurate genealogy is often impossible to fully document for such organizations. But more importantly, I told him that if he used, shared, published, or passed on a weak, incorrect, or possibly false genealogy lineage, it could damage his reputation, and perhaps eventually the family memory of him because that false pedigree might go out under his name.

He was still anxious to learn the truth about his lineage, and we agreed to evaluate the nineteen generations back to Edward IV, with the stipulation that we would work from both ends of the pedigree, because the likelihood of false information is most likely in the early generations, and the probability of undocumented ancestors is common in recent generations. We agreed, and all of our agreements were put in writing and signed, that if any aspects of the lineage were discredited, we would stop that search and explain why. Alternative goals were established regarding ancestors of interest in modern times, and research was to turn to those goals if the lineage goal failed. He gave us ten hours to find whatever we could.

In the first five hours we determined that generations 5-10 back from the client had been put together based on supposition and theory, but without any proper documentation. We also found that grandchildren had been credited to Edward IV’s lineage that were not historically accurate, and the lineage fell apart from there. We dropped the lineage evaluation after five hours, and devoted the remaining time to discovering details and family history about known recent ancestors. The client was thrilled with what was found, and understanding about learning the truth of his historical past. We made this into a win-win for both of us. We have a client who isn’t chasing dream clouds, and who has confidence in us as professionals in our field to come back for further assistance.

James W. Petty, AG®, CG (SM), B.A. (History), B.S. (Genealogy)
Ancestors are the People of History. Do you know who yours are?
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