Parental relationship — the unproven link

Parental relationship: Unproven linkYou proudly display 25 sources citing  life events of your grandfather John Smith, and 20 on his father Robert Smith. You’re a source citer of consummate skill. Everyone can trust your work with so many sources, right? Well, maybe. How many of those sources prove that this particular Robert Smith was your John Smith’s father? It’s a great big gap in our genealogical software — the absence of a parental relationship proof requirement. But we can solve it with a simple custom fact.

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Proving parental relationships

This isn’t about biological proof of paternity, though if you have it, by all means flaunt it. This is about documentary proof. Have you gathered the documents that tie your ancestor to his parents?

First of all, did you trust OPTs (other people’s trees) for the parents’ names, because they had lots of sources? If so, stop right where you are. Don’t climb another branch, until you are confident that the OPT proves the parental relationship. Else, you might just get up the tree and forget you defaulted to an OPT long ago. You might be building your tree on a badly grafted branch. And those tend to die and fall in bad weather.

But we GEGs have been over the OPT hazards several times before. Enough said on that. The main point is, have you proven you have the right parents?

Let’s say you have a document. GEG-worthy proof. Perhaps you have a 1910 census record that says your grandfather’s father was Bob Smith of Birmingham, Alabama. There’s your first piece of evidence. You can now say with some confidence that your great-grandfather’s name was Bob, which was probably short for Robert. (But you’re a GEG so you will NOT assume “Robert” until the sources say it’s so.)

Now you get excited because a quick search on tells you there are tons of records on Bob Smith of Birmingham. Aren’t the marathon tree climbers going to be jealous of how many sources you have for Bob?

Eliminating parental relationship doubts

Well, you GEGs are way ahead of me on this little drama, I’m sure.

There must have been dozens of Robert Smiths, Bob Smiths, R. Smiths, etc., in Birmingham, Alabama. I count at least 61 in the Birmingham metropolitan area in the 1910 census. You’ve got to prove which Bob Smith was John’s Dad.

You’re going to narrow it down, every step proving with greater certainty that you have isolated John Smith’s actual father. You won’t climb to Bob’s father until you are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that you have the right Bob.

OK, Bob Smith is a common name and Birmingham is a big town. What if the name is Xavier Fratimus of Montevallo, Alabama? Lucky you, but …

It doesn’t matter how common or uncommon the name of the father or the mother, or how small or large the town. We must get in the practice of flagging the documents that prove the parental relationship. They are the bracing of one generation’s branch before you add the weight of the next.

All well and good. Lesson learned but …

Documenting the Parental Relationship

Where does all this proof go in your genealogy software or online tree documentation? As fundamental as this research practice should be, it is surprisingly absent from the software as a standing field.

Fortunately, if you have genealogy software that allows custom facts, the workaround is simple. Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and Legacy all have them. And the custom facts in these three packages sync to their respective online trees in and FamilySearch. And both online trees allow the creation of custom facts, with or without desktop software syncing.

parental-relationship-custom-fact-setupNot to be dull and unimaginative, but may I suggest “Parental Relationship” as the custom fact label? It’s what I use, and the more consistent we all are, the easier it will be to share information. Also, I set it up as a purely descriptive field, since the fact is not affected by time or place.

Actually you might notice my label says “Parental Relationship (on child record),” so I’ll remember where to place the documentation. I make sure that any source that bolsters my confidence in the parental relationship is documented as a fact on the child’s record. I also document conflicts and why I chose one side over another in a disputed fact.

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If you are working through a Bob Smith situation, as described above — distinguishing one Bob from many other options — you’ll also want to document some of this on Bob’s record. But  your work in parental relationship citation is all about sources that show two people were parent and child. The records need to state it, imply it, or cast doubt on it.

I consider it a vital statistic, almost as important as name, birth, and death on an ancestor’s record. If we get this wrong, we are about to waste a huge amount of time, so let’s don’t. Those coming behind us, borrowing from our work, need to know we proved it, so let’s do.

GEG_Single Wrap

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