A great way to test the validity of your research is by preparing a report for a lineage society even if you have no intention of actually applying. This exercise will show you if you have done good research.
See if you can trace your line from yourself to one of your ancestors. Pick a soldier that fought in the Civil War, a soldier in the War of 1812, or a Revolutionary War soldier. If you are lucky enough to claim someone on the Mayflower as an ancestor use him/her. These are the most popular lineage societies.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds even if you think you have a lot of documents. Documenting a person's vital events is one thing but trying to prove the familial link from parent to child is another, especially the further back in time you go. How do you know that your Marmaduke Jowers is the same Marmaduke who is named in Mordecai Jowers’s will as a surviving son?
Here is another example. Let’s say you have this family group listed on the 1850 U.S. Federal census:
David Merchant, age 30, farmer, born in Georgia
Ann Merchant, age 27, born in Georgia
Wesley Merchant, age 8, born in Georgia
Marion Merchant, age 5, born in Georgia
Janie Merchant, age 3, born in Georgia
Daniel Merchant, age 1, born in Georgia
It appears that this is a husband, wife, and four children but the relationships are not specifically named. This is NOT enough to say that the listed children belong to either or both of the listed adults. It is also not enough to say that the two adults listed are actually married. A lot of people make this mistake. In the above family, the man’s wife died and his unmarried younger sister moved in to help him with the kids. It looks as though they are a married couple but they are not. One of the four children is the son of a brother whose wife died in childbirth. The father of that child felt ill equipped to raise a newborn so he handed the child over to his brother and sister to raise. So three of the children belong to David, none of the children belong to Ann, and one of the children belongs to David and Ann’s brother.
Using the same family above I can create another scenario. Ann is David’s 2nd wife. Wesley and Marion are his from his first marriage. Janie is Ann’s from her first marriage but the census taker recorded David’s surname. Daniel belongs to both of them.
Back to my original example, let’s say Mordecai Jowers left a will and in it you find, “To my son Marmaduke...” Your ancestor is Marmaduke Jowers but do you have enough to say that he is Mordecai’s son? What if you find this in the will, "To my wife, Julia..." Is this enough to say that Marmaduke's mother was Julia? The answer in both cases is no. You need more evidence. How do you know that there weren’t two Marmadukes in that area at the same time? Even though this is an unusual name you still have to treat it the same way as if his name were John Smith. How do you know that Mordecai wasn't previously married and Marmaduke is a product of that marriage? These are the questions you will have to answer if you were really submitting a lineage society application.
A lot of researchers err here. They neglect to prove the relationship between parent and child. Many times you will not be able to do this with direct evidence and you will have to put together an indirect evidence proof argument ("circumstantial" case). Even if you have direct evidence (a will that says, "to my son...”) that still may not be enough evidence to prove the connection.
When I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) I had to submit a comprehensive report including all of the documents I had used. My application passed the local registrar and was sent to Washington, D.C. for final approval. For one of the parent-child relationships I had submitted an indirect evidence proof argument. The national registrar bounced my application back and said, "What if...?" I then added the needed information to show that her What If scenario could not be true. My application was then approved. I was very grateful to that registrar for going through my research that thoroughly.
I highly recommend that you try this. You will need source citations for every fact AND for every child-parent link. If you don't have direct evidence then you will need to put together an indirect evidence proof argument.
Learn more about evidence analysis.
Learn more about the Genealogical Proof Standard.
Learn more about lineage societies.
Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.