Illinois Ancestors: Book tells how not to research family ancestry

Illinois Ancestors: Book tells how not to research family ancestry

Bookstores and websites offer a multitude of guides and instructions for doing genealogical research. However, there are many pitfalls that can hinder such research, whether they are untrue family stories or false family trees found online.

Richard Hite's new book, "Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction in Family Legends," provides helpful instructions to avoid some of the mistakes he has made.

Chapter titles include Recurring Patterns in Oral History; Ethnic Origins of Family Names; Maiden Names of Female Ancestors; Relationships to Someone Famous; Were They Neighbors; Relationships to Royalty, Nobility, or Wealth; Birthplaces of Ancestors; Military Service of Ancestors; Two or More Brothers as Immigrants; Associations or Encounters With Famous People; Native American Ancestors; and How Much Misinformation Can be Crammed Into One Paragraph.

He learned that death certificates can be wrong; identical surnames can conceal different nationalities; published county histories should be believed "with a grain of salt;" chronology is everything; and DNA can help — to a point. Case studies pertaining to his Hite ancestors illustrate the methods he used and the questions he asked so that others can apply his techniques and successfully create an accurate family tree.

"Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends" is a 126-page, soft-cover, illustrated, 6x9-inch book, ISBN 978-0-8063-1982-7, that can be ordered as item No. 2752 from Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 260, Baltimore, MD 21211-1953 for $18.95 plus $5.50 shipping. Visa and MasterCard orders may be placed at 800-296-6687 or at

Hite, who lives in Providence, R.I., is state records coordinator of the Rhode Island State Archives and Public Records Administration. Previously he was assistant state archivist at the Ohio Historical Society, and he also served as president of the Hite Family Association.

Noted genealogist Henry Z. "Hank" Jones, has provided the foreword to Hite's book and states, "Taking heed to the cautions cited and putting into practice the lessons learned in this book will make you all much better family historians and ensure that your genealogical legacy will be one to be trusted."

Tracing ancestry to kings?

The Internet has had several articles recently pertaining to people who claim to be descended from royalty. As Dick Eastman said in his Nov. 29 online genealogy newsletter, "So what? Almost everyone else theoretically can do the same."

Eastman's chart shows the number of ancestors everyone has for specific generations. For example, in the first generation, we each have two ancestors; in the second generation we each have four additional ancestors, making a total of six. Each ensuing generation introduces double the number of ancestors of the previous generation. By the 10th generation, we each have a total of 2,046 ancestors; by the 40th generation, 1,000 years ago, we each have more than 2 trillion ancestors.

"There is only one problem with this: that number far exceeds the total number of people who have ever lived on the face of the earth," he said. The reason for this is "there are duplicates in your family tree."

Eastman had a related article on March 31, 2010: "You Are Probably Descended from Charlemagne and Other Royalty."

He states, "Professional genealogists tell us that Charlemagne appears in almost every European descendant's family tree. Your challenge is to go out and document your line/s of descent."

Robert Krulwich has written an interesting article, "Are You Related To King Charlemagne?" at This article explains "pedigree collapse" and the likelihood that many of us are related to Charlemagne.

Albert Douglas Hart Jr. has compiled Charlemagne's family genealogy (up to and including his 12th generation); it is online at

Ancestry of U.S. presidents

At, a website devoted to the genealogy of U.S. presidents, there is information on President Barack Obama's descent from English royalty — along with several other presidents.

The website provides links to the genealogy and ancestry of all U.S. president and first ladies. Many Americans can trace their lines to a president's ancestors and thus claim kinship to that president and related royalty.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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