Pruning my family tree

When you make a willy-nilly grab for family using Ancestry public trees, you have to know that you are going to give some of “your” people back.  So when you first make your grab, try to remember that they aren’t yours until you double check.  It sounds easy but it will be hard because dead people have a way of making you love them.

Take the family of Louise Biron.  After my fast and furious family grab, her tree looked like this…

louise biron family tree

Louise Biron’s family tree after my initial grab for family. Source: screenshot of my family tree at Ancestry.com.

How could you not love these people?  They were awesome.  Louise’s tree drew my own family history back into the 16th century.  Denis Davaux, Francois D’Aubigny, and Antoinette Lecoq were all born before 1600.  They say that the length of your lineage doesn’t matter – and it doesn’t – but I still loved long lineage when I found it.

Louise’s tree also touched history.  Marguerite D’Aubigny, Louise’s maternal great grandmother, arrived in Quebec on the ship L’Esperance (Hope) on September 3, 1673 when she was 18 years old.  She entered a marriage contract 16 days later.  As a “fille du roi,” Louis XIV provided her with cash to marry in the new world.

Louise’s tree also formed funky relationships that were hard to digest, even for me who loves to honor families in all their various shapes and formations.  Louise’s paternal grandfather, Francois Biron, had three wives.  The first died in 1702, the second died in 1713, the third survived him in 1720 – but what was hardest to understand was that his third wife was also his granddaughter’s husband’s maternal grandmother.  There is no way to describe this repeating marriage in the English language – probably in no language are there enough words to describe that kind of love.  But thanks to Louise’s family tree, that story was now mine to tell.

Louise’s tree drew me in with its depth, its ties to history, and its crazy love, but again, YOU CAN’T COMMIT TO THE FAMILY YOU FIND ON ANCESTRY PUBLIC TREES UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE YOUR OWN RESEARCH.  You have to verify that the people you grab are truly yours – and only then can you claim them.

And in this case, for my family tree, these people were too good to be true.  In one fact check I had to lop off several branches of the tree.  See, there was a misreading of Tanguay.  And half the people on Ancestry.com public trees made the same mistake (or grabbed misread information and passed it on).

Joseph Biron in Tanguay.

Joseph Biron in Tanguay.

It was easy to do.  I did it myself and was as confused as heck for a while – but then I saw the problem.  There were two Joseph Biron who married in 1723.  The first one was third generation, had a fille du roi grandmother, and a father named Francois who married into another of my family lines.  The other, the correct one for my family tree, didn’t.  Instead he was first generation.  His trail started right then – no exciting story to tell.  And now I have to give back a doubly married family, a fille du roi, 3 relatives from the 16th century, and 6 others because they don’t belong to me.

So be wary — and before you fall in love with a dead person you just met on the internet, do your background check.  Make sure that they are who they say they are before you commit to them and their stories.  Or you, like me, might find out that the people you have claimed as family are not yours to love.

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 6.23.14 AM

Louise Biron’s actual family tree. Source: screenshot of my family tree at Ancestry.com.

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6 thoughts on “Pruning my family tree

  1. That’s a major reason why you should never merge your tree with another tree, especially on Ancestry. Use them as a reference tool, but keep your own work clean. I’m sorry you had to discover that the hard way. 😦

  2. Jules says:

    I can’t agree more! I only ever used other people’s trees as a hint. I’ve seen too many examples of children shown with their birth years before their own parents’ !!

  3. Reblogged this on no1familyhistory and commented:
    Can’t agree more – a good example of never relying on unchecked research

  4. Interesting story which demonstrates that digital information has its limits

  5. leslie frank says:

    Hi everyone! It seems like we are all in agreement: public trees can be great for hints — a real boost in research — but they can’t replace your own work. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know that I am not alone in all of this!

  6. Mitzi says:

    “before you fall in love with a dead person you just met on the internet” – this line is so great, thanks for the reminder! 🙂

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