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Do You Have Former Ancestors?

A wrong connection will cause you to prune your tree.

You know…those people you’ve been researching for years, only to discover you're

in the wrong family! I use this line quite often in my lectures and it usually gets a laugh. We've probably all had that problem at one time. It is incredibly easy to do with the Irish, with both their surnames (do you have Murphys, Sullivans or Dalys?) as well as their given names because of Irish naming patterns.

This was an issue this past week as I was working on a consultation for a person joining one of the 2022 Research trips. Her ancestor was a Sullivan/O’Sullivan. In Griffith’s Valuation there were 51 individuals of the same name in the parish that was identified as their original home. The possibility of identifying the wrong person is huge here.

Back in 2015 Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak wrote an article in the Huffington Post titled “Hillary Clinton Family Tree – a Wake-Up Call for Genealogy.” It should be required reading (and a warning) for all genealogists and family historians. Check your sources and analyze your findings to make sure you have the correct person. If you find two people with the same name living in the same area, you must research both of them (or all of them) to separate them. Don’t ever take information in an online tree and merge it with your (well researched) data. I’m not opposed to online family trees…I frequently use the information I find in them as hints for future research…but remember, that’s all they are…hints.

I have not gotten to a point where I have had to delete an entire branch from my family tree, but I do make use of what are called “Islands” in my software (Reunion). These are people, or groups of people, who I think might be related because of their name/locality, but I haven’t been able to find records to confirm a connection. I keep them in my database, but they are not connected. An example of this is on the Moughty line. This is a very unusual name even in Ireland, and is found in the midlands of Ireland, in Longford and Westmeath. I have connected most of these families, but there is one I cannot connect although they lived in the same area. A Y-DNA test that I expected to come back as a match…didn’t. There is still the probability that a relationship exists, but it is not likely to be in “genealogical” time in Ireland. I have done extensive research on this family…it shares not only the surname, but also many of the given names, i.e, Bernard, Michael, John, James and Patrick, but I can’t connect it into the rest of my Moughty research. So they sit as an “Island” in my database. Should the time come when I can make a connection, it will be simple to add them. With all the common surnames in Ireland and the need to research all of the collaterals, this is not an uncommon situation. I actually have about 75 Islands ranging from 1 person to 114 people. Rather than former ancestors, these I consider possible relatives.

When trying to identify your ancestor among those of the same name, you are going to have to look at many possibilities. Rather than collecting information on scraps of paper (oh, yes, I’ve done this), place them in your database as an “unrelated person” or whatever your particular software calls it. Then, research them as if they are yours. If you know your ancestor left Ireland in the 1850s and this individual is still have children in Ireland in the 1860s, he is not the person you are looking for (although he very well might be a cousin, so keep him there).

So if you have one of those common names, don’t despair…you love to research, right? Treat each of these people as if they were your ancestor until you can prove or disprove it. Analyze each record you find and write your conclusions with a proof argument. The process of simply writing may crystalize your argument and remember, a proof argument is always open to modification based on new information

Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

Do you know someone who is interested in researching in Ireland? Please share the information on the 2022 Research Trips with your Genealogical Society and friends.

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Barbara Ball
Barbara Ball
Oct 11, 2021

Thank you Donna from a fellow Reunion user. Great hint about deliberately creating islands of unrelated people.


Oct 04, 2021

Donna, I know who you are talking about!!!!

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