( My Web pages have been constructed and posted over a period of years since about 1995. I have originally written certain pages, such as this one, as a response to a particular person, or for a particular online forum, journal or e-zine, and then later placed it on my Web site. Some of the comments are redundant to those found elsewhere, or may even seem a bit obsessive. Analytic software that keeps statistics about number of visitors, page hits, type browser used, etc, reveal that the vast majority of visitors to my Web site never reach this far within my Web site, so most never see such pages. If you are reading this, you are apparently more inquisitive, or have just stumbled upon it. I mostly retain the comments below as a ready, generic response that I can forward in response to occasional, mean-spirited and ill-informed commentary about the quality or motives of Internet, celebrity or royal genealogies. )
bout my genealogy sources, errors and “famous cousins”
This page was not constructed with any particular person in mind, but rather as a response to a few quite vocal academics and\or genealogists who tend to post criticisms of earlier research, often in full or partial anonymity. If you see yourself in my descriptions here, I sincerely hope that moment of self-awareness will be constructive, and will prompt at least some measure of self-examination and motives. I am aware that my comments will, in part, seem defensive, perhaps somewhat paranoid, and in some cases even offensive. On the other hand, I apologize in advance for any remark that comes across as pompous.
In the course of over thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have too often come across the rather ignoble remarks of other researchers and genealogists (some of them supposed professionals and academics), who have chosen (frequently in the most sarcastic or otherwise unflattering language) to categorize the work of a deceased predecessor or peer as ill-researched, poorly-substantiated, widely discredited, or as totally speculative. Almost any genealogical researcher working prior to the coming of age of personal computers and the Internet had a significant compilation, communication and collaboration disadvantage, not to speak of the lack electronic access to the thousands of databases available now. One would imagine that it was significantly easier to miss an error in prior decades than now. It has only been since 2005, when commercially-available mtDNA and Y-DNA testing started to approximate a relatively inexpensive state, that various otherwise-unprovable ancestries could be documented as proven or disproved versus “believed.” One would imagine that given another decade or two, similar advances might identify several errors in what today are considered widely-accepted genealogies, or with additional research even reverse previous DNA interpretations (such as the case of the Cohen modal haplotype). A humble recognition of such advancements that were unavailable to our predecessors, and of the earlier contributions that serve as a starting point for many of us, seems to be a trait that many modern day researchers lack.
Thank you to those of you who have contacted me to contribute substantiation of various errors in my own pages. My Web genealogy is the better as a result such contact and corrections.
Many genealogists and\or authors of articles, books or Web sites have, however, never ventured to directly dialogue, collaborate with, challenge or confront (particularly in print) the individuals being belittled–while such objects of this criticism were ALIVE, and capable of defending their reputations, reasoning, methods, or sources, or gaining the opportunity to correct their work, when found in error.
Case in point: Almost every prominent Acadian and French Canadian genealogist who has lived has fallen into wide disrepute a few decades following their death, under the soles of the heirs to their research. Names such as Archange Godbout, Leopold Lanctot, Bona Arsenault, H. Leander d’Entremont, Clarence d’Entremont, Cyprien Tanguay, and others were generally revered during their owners’ lifetimes for the decades of dedicated research and compilation of data that we now use as a starting point – but have now fallen quickly into the ranks of the “less strict,” “hasty,” or “ill-disciplined.” I have been amazed to note how quickly some have jumped to avow how even the late René Jetté’s work contains numerous errors.
While it is now clear that several of the aforementioned researchers indeed included speculative opinion in their work, it is the fact that such speculation was later proven to be in error that has led to their vilification. One will certainly find the same sort of yet-to-be-proven speculative “opinion” in my work, as well as even in the writings of many present day, distinguished historians and genealogical researchers. The fear of having to defend conflicting evidence against someone who can publicly respond, however, often stills the tongue\pen of critics, until it becomes “safe” to attack the work (after the victimized researcher is dead).
Proposing a hypothesis to explain an origin or lineage that has not been proven should always be labeled as speculative, but the idea that speculation (especially in opposition to this or that “expert”) has no place in genealogy, history or other research is little more than close-mindedness. As I have said elsewhere, it only through speculation, hypothesis and continued research that new knowledge is obtained. Beware an “expert” authority that believes otherwise. History itself is the proof of this. How often have we seen the rewriting of the history of the American West and its heroes, or even the 20th century apologetic corrections by the Catholic Church to the status of figures such as Mary Magdalene, Galileo, etc?
I wish to clarify that I am not in any sense trying to self-label my own work as remotely-likewise prominent, revered, or as well-known as any of the aforementioned genealogists. My main characteristics in common with such individuals and with other researchers still living are: i) my work very likely be found to contain uncorrected errors and discrepancies that will only surface after I am dead, and ii) my work reflects some of my own opinion and speculation. In the latter instance, such editorial license is appropriately indentified as such.
I have included in my genealogy various charts that illustrate the very distant relationships of various “cousins” who became famous or who descended from nobility. Some are preposterous, if one attempts to translate their inclusion as part of a proven, historical or factual lineage. Never was this my intent, and I have tried to diligently labels or footnote this in such cases where they occur. One of the more common cheap shots that many of their critics tend to take at dead genealogists is that the late researcher was “obsessed with finding some remote relationship to celebrities and nobility, to make up for his own inferiority complex.” I find such ignoble, grossly-speculative and unprofessional categorization to be unworthy of any reputable, educated commentator. Other examples found on my site are (intentionally) preposterous, in that they portray a kinship with another person to such a minute degree (e.g., 25th cousin) that it is actually somewhat comical to really think of that person as a "cousin." In fact, my intent with such scenarios is to illustrate that veryone is pretty much "related" to everyone else, albeit in some cases only remotely.
Genealogists do not spends years researching dead ancestors due to a “morbidity complex,” but rather because they found the activity enjoyable, even addictive. A proven or even “possible” royal descent adds a little spice to often mundane work, and opens an interesting line of research, often extending into the Middle Ages. Harvard’s Nat Taylor (PhD, medieval European history, 1995) has a brief but eloquent page devoted to this topic at his personal Web site, here.
Many adults spend much more time playing video games than what most genealogists spend on their avocation, in general, and far more than what any genealogist spends reproducing dynastic lineages or celebrity genealogies. People may indeed immerse themselves in video games to “escape” the real world, but they do so for recreation; not due to an inability to cope with reality. Tracing royal and celebrity lineage is likewise done for recreation and curiosity; not for self-affirmation. Our hobbies, avocations and even professions may provide insights as to our particular interests, aptitudes, and even personalities, but they do not disclose our motivations. To assume otherwise, make unflattering aspersions, and then to publicize such an opinion reveals far more about that writer’s motivations, etiquette and character, than the same qualities of his\her “target.”
The more time you spend on my genealogy pages (or ones similar to it), the more you will realize that these pages are far more about how likely it is that we are all related, and have more in common - farmers, bluebloods, experts, celebrities and blue-collar folk alike - for better or for worse - than you might think. While a birthright may offer an easier place to start in life, the place where we wind up is a matter of effort, education and achievement, and has little to do with anyone's history of long-dead ancestors (unless of course they bequeathed to us millions of dollars). The primary motivation for myself, as well as most researchers I know who look for “gateway ancestors” is that these lineages are a fast track to an entire millennium or more of fascinating personalities and histories, including many far-removed ancestors who may or equally may not be enviable role models. The enjoyment derived by other people from my online display of such celebrity lineages is validated both by my page visitation counters, and by the numerous comments to that effect, which I receive by e-mail.
I have commented briefly in various places throughout my Web site about certain projects, research-related travel, or other steps taken since 1971 to create my genealogy. While I have, in later years, attempted to add source references for anything that might be construed as controversial or not present in other researchers' genealogies, it is impractical (if not impossible after 35+ years) for me to to retrace my steps and supply sources for each and every entry.
Almost all of my charts have been constructed with the full knowledge that all lineages start, at some point in the ancestry, to cross from documented fact to folklore and legend. While it may be easy to place certain individuals in one category or another, others remain controversial, even among well-qualified scholars at the most prestigious institutions. In depicting such speculative lineages, it has never been my intent to document history, but rather to illustrate relationships (thus my visual relational charts vs. the more common parent-child database approach). I have always found such genealogies enhance an understanding of various migrations, fictional and historical novels, movies, scriptures, marital alliances, etc., even if the “provable” historical veracity may fall somewhere short of absolute. Almost all “descents from antiquity” fall into this category at one generation or another, yet that does not detract from the value that some of us subjectively derive, or from the contributions that even Ivy League and international scholars supply in their construction. It is a far different epitaph to frankly but fairly state that a life’s work of some late researcher included unproven parentages or the author’s own admitted speculation, than to sink to the level of sarcastic derision in describing such work.
It will undoubtedly be true that errors remain to be found in my own genealogies. That does not mean that it was because I carelessly slapped together something I found at the LDS or another website that this-or-that-contributor never bothered to verify. On the contrary, I have made every effort to check such data against the best sources that were available to me, at the time. In some cases that means I actually obtained documentation from a courthouse, parish registry, cemetery or authoritative genealogical dictionary. In other case it means that I trusted that the individual who provided data was sufficiently close in relation to be able to provide good information about their grandfather, grandchildren, aunts, cousins, etc. In many cases I traveled to quite remote locations to view a document firsthand. In others, I accepted a photocopy from a fellow researcher or relation, and in yet other instances I accepted what someone passed along electronically, either by e-mail or via their website. In all cases, however, I considered the source, checked that source’s sources, and compared the data against still other documents, databases and conflicting sources.
Some errors no doubt survive. The passage of time increasingly delivers broader means of communication and collaboration. Each subsequent generation has grown up better tools to manipulate and compare data, and to reveal the research errors of preceding generations. We correct these mistakes as we find them- or someone else does, after us, and as long as the corrections are appropriate, the updated information becomes more accurate and of greater value to those who follow. What might have been believed accurate (by everyone) when I created a page, may well be disproved in a later year. New DNA test results, newly-discovered baptismal records, and closer attention to some translation, or a yet-to-be-discovered technology will reveal errors that neither my peers nor I will even learn about.
I have held lengthy communications in person, by telephone and via e-mail with several notable researchers of the very highest professional and academic stature, and on more than one occasion have been able to improve the quality of my work through such dialogue, even when such communication fails to disclose proof one way or another. Any time that a hypothesis must be defended, it emerges stronger, whether it is proven or simply backed by additional evidence, documentation or explanation. In other cases the improvement came by way of standing corrected. What errors remains are due to a lack of proof, better evidence to the contrary, or because they have not been pointed out. In other cases, I have left certain speculative lineages proposed by earlier researchers reflected in my own charts, even though of these a few are widely discredited, but have clearly noted such status. Despite the position by some that such unproven ancestries should be cleared from all “reputable” internet sites and even some journals or books removed from genealogy librairies, I believe it is far more helpful to allow the uninitiated researcher to discover these controversies and pro/con arguments, lest they reinvent and publish a hypothesis that has already been beaten to death. Such speculative lineages also serve to educate the new researcher as to the extent they need to document and defend their work, lest they be subjected unaware to the same heavy criticism, chastisement, and potential public humiliation that is dished out by other researchers, who are sometimes fiercely defensive of their particular genealogical turf and\or livelihood.
Just because we climb upon the backs of our predecessors to produce our own updated contributions, does not mean those predecessors belong beneath our feet.
-Michael Leonard Marcotte