Monday, April 22, 2013

Genealogical road rage

I am a subscriber to an online genealogical research site called and use it nearly every day --- not to track down my ancestors usually (been there, done that, the old-fashioned way) but because it offers access to millions of digitalized records that come in handy for other research projects.

But occasionally --- like Eve and the mythic apple --- I can't resist temptation and plug one of my family surnames into the "Family Tree" search slot to sample the insanity. Not a good idea.

This happened Sunday with "Redlingshafer," one of the families I've been thinking about lately, especially since hearing from a distant cousin (really distant --- his ancestor was an elder half-brother of my great-great-grandfather Redlingshafer, both emigrants from family villages west of Nuremberg in the German state of Bavaria).

The Redlingshafers (this is an anglicized version of a Germanic surname) arose in Austria but were invited to leave because they were Lutheran in a predominantly Catholic area and resettled centuries ago in Bavarian villages where they reproduced enthusiastically.

It has always seemed like it should be possible to bridge the Atlantic and establish a specific lineage that linked the American and German families. The surname is distinctive, after all. Thirty years ago, or so, I corresponded with a German cleric (who spoke and wrote only German) who had served the family villages and generally was recognized as the leading expert on all things Redlingshafer. Others did, too. The conclusion was, it couldn't be done based upon his research.

Someone proficient in German with months to spend researching in German archives (or the big bucks to hire a surrogate) proably could, but the path would not be easy or inexpensive. I was content to lay that project aside. Others weren't and the result was a false lineage cobbled together from Pfarrer Kerr's notes, fed online like bread to hungry goldfish and then embedded via "merge" into hundreds of online family trees. Grrrr.


Another example of genealogical insanity: My great-great-grandparents, Peachy Gilmer and Caroline (McDaniel) Boswell, settled on Wildcat Creek just north of Corydon during the 1850s. We know that Peachy's father was Thomas Boswell and his mother, Mary, who died at Cincinnati in Appanoose County during 1860. We do not know what Mary's maiden name was, however.

Because of the distinctive name, Peachy Gilmer Boswell, many of us speculated for a while many years ago that she might have been a Gilmer, related thereby to several mythic Virginia families. Further research proved this not to be the case and we still have no idea why Thomas and Mary picked that unusual name for their eldest son.

But midway through this process, a Mormon cousin hot to trot his forbears into LDS heaven, took off and ran with the Gilmer theory, created a totally inaccurate link to the Gilmer family and "merged" that family into his own.

Some years later, a Woody family researcher --- upon finding a slip of paper somewhere in North Carolina, decided that Mary's maiden name was Woody and, again, hit "merge."

As a result out there in Cyberspace today and still being merged with enthusiasm are various versions of the entirely false Boswell-Gilmer lineage and the unsubstantiated Boswell-Woody lineage. Plus, a number of people who didn't actually exist have been enbedded in LDS heaven. Grrr, again.


Finally, this Adam and Eve business --- and it sometimes is useful to bite your tongue on this one in the interests of congeniality. But there are countless online lineages out there on and elsewhere that begin with Adam (born ca. 4004 B.C. in the Garden of Eden, died ca. 3070 in East Eden, according to at least one of them).

Now really, people. Even if Adam and Eve were not players in the Hebrew creation myth adopted by Christians too lazy to invent their own, there is no conceivable way to document links between historic lineages and the patriarchial lineages outlined in the Bible. It simply cannot be done. Even faith will not move this mountain.

So stop it.

Legitimate historians tend to fall to the floor laughing hysterically when someone suggests that genealogy can be a handmaiden to history. It's not hard to see why.

1 comment:

Lynne Wilson said...

I know what you mean Frank,I have seen so much of this "merge' business on Ancestry and it really can drive you crazy and people just keep doing it over and over again really making a mess of a family tree. Lynne