Building a Family Tree from Circumstantial Evidence

Sometimes when we hit a brick wall on our genealogical journey, we are tempted to experiment with circumstantial information to attempt to reach beyond a specific point into the next generation. No one wants to spread misinformation, but from the vantage point of an adoptee this is the only route from which to start under most circumstances with their genealogy.

There are rules I encourage when working with an adoptee. One is to make our ancestry tree private and unsearchable. This way we are not contributing to misinformation. There is certainly no better way to upset the genealogical community more than with spreading false information. Even if they know the motive for your experimentation, seldom will you receive a happy communication from someone who has spent considerable time thoroughly documenting the information they have online.

This tends to be the one thing that upsets people the most with the genealogy I perform for adoptees. They loathe the idea that you are contacting them about an ancestor that may have given a child up for adoption and their information is contrary to what you have. Most people do actually want to help, but have limited patience for those who are genuinely naïve with the craft they have perfected over their many years in the pursuit of truth in their families.

I am often trying to earn the trust and respect of professional genealogists as I step in amongst their family history to ask them questions about a potential non-paternal event; i.e. and adoption or relinquishment of a child. These are their family members and they do not take kindly to what I am insinuating about someone they may have known personally. It borders on sacrilegious to suggest such improprieties occurred amongst their family. Who can blame them? For me the idea is an everyday consideration. However, from their vantage point it can come across as an insult.

To me, that defensiveness is offensive too. It suggests that an adoptee is an unwelcome guest or that people are all saintly an above such reproach as to having children out of wedlock. Some folks are just old fashion. They come from the time period where adoption was kept quiet. Everything about children born out of wedlock was a secret so as to preserve the families’ status in their community. It is the very idea of secrecy that makes most adoptees upset. Adoptees are often made to feel abnormal or ungrateful when they have a strong desire in searching their genealogical roots.

Ask any genealogist how troubling it is to get past a non-paternal event where the surname of an ancestor is incorrect or inaccurate. Yet bring that into the modern era where an adoptee does not even know who the very first step in their genealogy is and one can start to understand the depths of frustration that exist in this community of people.

Yes, anyone building a family tree from circumstantial evidence should be sensitive to the community at large. However, the tolerance should go both ways as genealogists encounter these lost souls along their journeys into the past.

Genetic genealogy allows us to introduce DNA evidence to be inserted into the building of these family trees, but it can also shake up a professional genealogists if you approach them with these “potential facts” and are not sensitive to their hard work. Asking an adoptee who has never known of their birth family to be sensitive to a genealogist and you may find it difficult for them to swallow. Adoptees hardly have the patience for anyone who feels that keeping a secret about a family is more important than the truth they have been missing for a lifetime.

It is no wonder that most adoptees seeking out information from genealogists attempt to deceive them for information, when the truth would almost certainly be taken as an attack on their family pedigree. Not all genealogists have this attitude toward adoptees, but those that do make it difficult for adoptees to be complete straightly forward with their questions regarding a genealogist’s tree.

Imagine if every shred of information you had was based on the accuracy of your amateur genealogist family members. That every single census poll and other documentation providing you substantiated proof of your tree was packed with half-truths and false information. That is what it is like for an adoptee building out their family information. Every single step of their journey is based on building a family tree from circumstantial evidence. While this is the last resort for a professional genealogist to take based on a brick wall they hit, the adoptees’ every step toward truth is based on this methodology.