I happen to use Family Tree Maker, but I don't think my question is software specific.

I am using cluster genealogy to solve a particularly difficult problem. As a part of this process, I have defined a number of theories of varying levels of confidence that I am trying to prove or disprove.

I find it very useful to create a these theories or scenarios in Family Tree Maker because I sometimes need to see things put together to decide if it makes sense. However, I don't want to pollute my main family tree with guesswork. Currently, I've been creating additional alternate trees for each theory and sync'd them to ancestry.com. I've kept these trees in ancestry.com private so no one confuses them as being the Truth. The problem here is that there is a LOT of duplication between these various Theory trees and setting them up and propagating new facts across all of them is a pain.

What is the best way to go about modeling theories? Should I just do that outside the scope of my genealogy software?

The question on Transitioning from person-based genealogy to record-based genealogy? is related to my question, but not exactly. I know most of my people, I am not sure about their relationships.

1 Answer 1


I maintain a Word document (over 260 pages now) that lists all of the events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.) of my direct ancestors in chronological order. As part of that document, I include all of the theories, guesses, and hypotheses associated with familial connections (possible but unproven relationships, lists of potential candidates for parents or children, lists of people that might fill a particular slot, i.e. all the John Smiths born in Devon over a 20-year span, etc.). All of the information is footnoted with links to all of the documentation that corroborates a certain theory (links to ancestry.com, findmypast, familysearch, National Archives, Google Books, etc.). I also include information on geography, place names, interaction with other families, historical events that have bearing on the family's behaviour (immigration, local industries, infant deaths due to disease, etc.).

I can add, delete and edit this information at any time without modifying my "base" family tree (where I try to only include events that have corroborating documentation, except where there is a high likelihood of only a single person filling a particular slot in the tree). All of these ancestors (in the tree) have notes and comments clearly stating that this person or their dates is a guess. I can also share snippets of the document with other family members for corroboration or comment.

I also create mirror trees and keep them private but try to keep them limited because, as you say, the effort to keep them all maintained can be onerous.

  • 2
    This confirms my suspicion that current genealogy software is not up to the task on this issue. I've recently adopted your approach. Using Evernote, I'm creating a note for every major theory and linked them together. As a new comer to this, the software in genealogy seems very "consumer" oriented...rather than "professional". Where's the $399 package that does for genealogy what "Lightroom" does for photography?!
    – Dave
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 14:18

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