Pruning fantasy trees
I love FamilySearch and use it often to document my relations, focusing on ancestors going back about six generations and their descendants.
However, whenever a relation shows an interest in family history and the site, the conversation follows a familiar path. They are first amazed at the information available and start to trace lines back, and then comes the inevitable question: "Are my ancestors really royalty?" After I explain how unreliable the older tree information can be, they immediately write the site off completely. It doesn't matter how much has been put into making sure the more recent info is correct and documented. The glut of wish-fulfillment fantasy genealogies overwhelms and destroys the credibility of the tree.
Although I should probably try, I'm hesitant to sever relationships in FamilySearch (even those with no sources) as there are just too many of them and expect it won't be worth the trouble.
What do others do to prune their lines? Or have you just made your peace with all the nonsense?
I just followed one family line back as far as it would go. Adam [L2M1-HNZ], of course.
Rootstech 2023 had a talk "Are you related to royalty?" https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/are-you-related-to-royalty?lang=eng0
Paul W ✭✭✭✭✭
Users have two main options here. Either they can just leave these extended branches alone and trust others will see them for what they really are, or - where there is no evidence at all for a relationship to the "next generation below" - the relationship of the "child" can be detached from that of the alleged parent(s).
At the point when it is obvious there is no evidence (even the contrary) of there having been I parent-child relationship, I have occasionally detached the relationship. Obviously, one needs to take great care in doing this, as "no evidence" does not always indicate a relationship did not exist. But some of my examples have been with fictitious characters (e.g. connections to branches of mythical kings and queens), so I have no qualms in breaking-up these "fantasy trees".0
@JeffHu You probably should explain these older and possibly erroneous lines differently. Saying that they are unreliable is saying these people and all their information is bogus. That may not be the case, and probably isn't. What I say is these lines are not necessarily proven to be our ancestors, or are perhaps evidence of their connections are proven using family or historical records that may involve historical speculation. While historical speculation is not genealogy, it serves to be educational and can be a catalyst for someone to become interested in history. If you join medieval history groups on social media, you will see all kinds of debate about contemporary sources proving some event is either possible or impossible, and quite often I see this kind of debate in the FamilySearch person pages.
Another thing to think about is this; if these fantasy lines involve actual historical people, then there is 100% that someone is a true descendent. I see NOTHING WRONG with educating my family members on historical events that may have involved their ancestors. NOTHING. Something else I bring into it is DNA. I understand completely that DNA in this use is evidence and not proof. DNA ethnicities are estimates and Ancestry has a specific procedure on how they identify ethnicities and it is periodically updated. By looking at the ethnicity regions, one can easily see ancient migrations and invasions patterns such as the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, the Islamic invasion of Spain in 711, the Turkish invasion of eastern Europe over multiple centuries and I could go on and on. When so called fantasy lines contain evidence of this for relatives (including adopted relatives) whose DNA I manage in Ancestry and whose tree I am working on in FamilySearch, I feel comfortable seeing a consistency between the tree and the DNA ethnicities.
I hope this helps!1
Thank you all for the thoughtful responses!
As I mentioned, I’ve focused primarily on building strong branches for more recent ancestors and their descendants and the little time I’ve spent looking further back I’ve been overwhelmed. I’m considering shifting focus later this year so have started to think about the best way to approach this.
@Gail Swihart Watson: Upon reflection, I agree I was too pessimistic in my rant about what I fear I’ll find and will work to keep a more open mind. I do expect to overwhelmingly find a lot of very well researched trees. I also like the phrasing ‘historical speculation’ and making use of these lines to delve into lessons in history.
I did do a quick check this morning. My kids have 22 ancestors (ranging from 7-13 generations back) that have ‘super-linked’ trees (not sure what people call them, but these ancestors have trees that are well filled out and go back at least 12 additional generations).
@Paul W: I will look first for true ‘fantasy/fictitious’ people to focus on. Maybe that’ll alleviate many of my concerns. I chose one of these super-linked ancestors a couple of days ago at random and followed a line back until it ended with Adam and Eve. Not sure if there is any way to find fictitious people more efficiently than just random exploration.
@dontiknowyou: I watched the video, and will no longer automatically write off the possibility that these trees are real links to royalty. Interesting!
I guess what I’d like to see is some way to indicate within FamilySearch where the better documented world ends and the ‘historical speculation’ begins. Maybe a dropdown box next to the parents names, for something like ‘Relationship Confidence’, with a couple of choices like ‘no documentation’, ‘little documentation’, or ‘highly documented’, and a “Reason this information is correct” popup box to allow users to explain why an option was chosen? There are pop-up Reason boxes for names, birth dates, marriages, etc., but not for parentage, which just seems odd given the importance.
FamilySearch would then have a tool to potentially apply a global default ‘no documentation on relationship’ tag for individuals prior to a conservative date when historical records did not exist; and family charts could have options that allow users to exclude ‘no documentation’ ancestors from views. Our views of this amazing global tree could look very different.1
I guess what I’d like to see is some way to indicate within FamilySearch where the better documented world ends and the ‘historical speculation’ begins.
I use the Family Tree fan chart, with Sources option turned on. That isn't perfect, because many fantasy profiles also have fantasy sources attached.
I also use a Note under the Collaboration tab, with the Alert flag set, so on the New Person Page a banner appears, warning readers to consult the notes before editing the profile.0
You won't find that easily. It is possible that a well documented line exists between, say 1200 and 1370, but at the 1370 generation there is a child added who is a questionable child of that parent. The child, however is a well documented person whose descendants are well documented. It's that child - parent connection which is speculative. And this kind of thing can be the case at any point of time in any line.
It takes lots of digging to find these "weak" spots. I have been interested enough in medieval history to know that experts exist out there who have published comprehensive books on their families of the middle ages, but it takes more than a casual interest to wade through this stuff. You also have to be on social media as researchers find new contemporary (ie medieval) evidence that changes things. Lots of papers and books have been sitting for 1500+ years in vaults or stacks of papers waiting for a Latin expert to translate them.0
@Gail Swihart Watson Agreed. As a test, I chose one family line that extends back to the early kings of Ireland, and looked for some nearer weak links.
As one example, there seems to be little to support David Irvine's [LTPT-CSS, born 1659] relationship to his son Matthew [LJH8-BNQ] (nor almost of all of his other listed children). Yet, a quick search in Ancestry shows 9,285 trees that include this Mathew Irvine, and it looks like most show his relationship with David.
I'm not going to try to sever the Mathew/David relationship without strong evidence, but even if I tried how do you prove a negative, especially when there are 9,285 people who believe otherwise?
This is why I greatly appreciate that with FamilySearch, there is (or should be) only one Mathew Irvine record to argue over, not ten thousand.
@dontiknowyou I do also use the Family Tree fan tree with Sources as a stand-in for finding weaker links, but as you note this is often deceptive. I'll also look more closely at the Alert function, but I would still greatly prefer there be some other method (however subjective) to highlight/visualize relationship confidence.