It’s fine to make assumptions during your genealogical research. In fact, we all do it whether we think we do or not. Here’s the thing: as we review our sources and uncover evidence, we have to remember our assumptions and be willing to let them go in light of new information. We need to follow where the sources lead, and not want we think or wish they should say. Our assumptions can be stubborn, especially when they are tied to oral history. We sometimes try to make the sources “fit” the oral history we were told.
Here are some common assumptions we make during our research, some of which I have blogged about before:
- Parents married before birth of child
- Parents married at all
- Parents were only married to each other
- The wife in the census household is the mother of all of the children
- A person living in the same place with the same name is OUR ancestor
- Children lived to adulthood
- Children took the surname of their father
- People stayed in one county or state their entire lives
- People married or died in the county or state where they lived most of their lives
- People appear in the records as one “race”
- Enslaved people took the surname of their last slaveholder
- Enslaved people had no surnames before emancipation
And of course the “mother of all assumptions”—assuming that what we read in an original source is accurate without correlating that information with other records. People can and did misremember, lie, deny, make things up and simply err.
So as you are planning and reviewing your research, be sure to do a mental check of your assumptions. They can lead you astray, and lead to having an artificial brick wall. Readers, tell me in the comments what erroneous assumptions have you had in the past with your research?
Sidenote: I had a fantastic time in Richmond, VA this weekend at the 2015 AAHGS Conference. All my “Kinfolks” came out and supported the new book in droves. It was so nice to meet everybody and put a few names to faces. Thank you to everyone who stopped by the table to say hello. Shout out to Renate, Aaron, Marion, Glenn, Alice, Selma, and Veronica. You ROCK.