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The focus of my work now is on a set of Tallents who lived in rural North Carolina around 1750-1820.

I'm quite certain they were all related, but there is little evidence to establish specific parent/child relationships.

I want my online tree (Ancestry) to reflect the relationships for which there is at least some evidence. My tree is also public, so I want to do the right thing for other researchers and not give them a false impression as to the certainty of my current guesses.

I'm considering a strategy of creating a single unnamed "Ancestor Tallent" as a placeholder on my tree, and attaching everyone to him as their parent unless I have specific information otherwise.

One complication is that in one case, I know that two persons are brothers, but don't know who their father is. I don't want to lose that key information, so I'll have to attach them via another "unknown" node.

Are there any disadvantages to this approach as opposed to just modeling my current wild guesses?

  • What kinds of records are you using? There must be some relationships or connections between persons mentioned. I tend to use tables to set up preliminary information or hypotheses, before adding a lot of persons in a new family group to my genealogy database. And I have a marker I use when a particular relationship I have added is in doubt (example: a child who could have been adopted rather than that of the recorded parents). Putting many 'imaginary' relationships in a tree tends to be confusing and counter-productive for finding corroborating records. – bgwiehle Jul 19 '15 at 14:05
  • The sources I'm using (census records before 1850, jury lists, tax records, land records, military records) usually don't include household names or relationships. But a few Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension applications do mention a few relationships in passing, as do a few estate records. Unfortunately, they are more likely to mention a sibling than a parent. So, at best, my current parent/child relationships are wild guesses based on relative age (also usually more of a guesstimate), neighboring land, and attempts to align known personas to person-counts in earlier censuses. – richardtallent Jul 19 '15 at 14:30
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I find lineage-linked databases to be inadequate in cases like this, especially Ancestry's online trees. In Family Historian, I prefer to link people as Associated Persons. This allows me to record the relationship which is actually stated in the source, and I don't have to use a dummy relationship to attach them to the tree ahead of the evidence.

On Ancestry's online tree, if two people have the same surname, and the source says they are brothers, I create a no-name father with the same surname and link them that way, but otherwise, I create the person as a descendant of someone in the tree and then unlink them, leaving them in the tree as an unrelated person.

I don't like creating dummy intermediates for more distant relations, because there isn't any good way on Ancestry's online tree to flag those links as a hypothesis.

Because I do not want to mis-lead other researchers, most of my Ancestry trees are private (the exception is a public tree for a same-name family which is NOT my family, created to demonstrate why I do not think their records belong to the family I am studying).

For the cases where I have a hypothesis I want to test, I create a smaller private tree separate from my main tree. This allows me to mine Ancestry's hint system without putting a false lead into my main tree. Be sure to leave yourself some kind of note about what you have done -- Ancestry does allow you to make notes in the Tree Overview page, and on each person's profile in notes (private) or comments (public), so I encourage you to leave yourself and others breadcrumbs about what you are trying to do. The real danger, as I see it, is that by creating too many dummy people, in addition to mis-leading other researchers about what you are doing, it is easy to forget what you have done, and mis-lead yourself.

This is why I prefer to keep material like this in research notes instead of 'cementing' the relationships with links in online trees.


In one of her Barefoot Genealogist videos, Crista Cowan demonstrated how to link people's profiles to each other using Weblinks. This is useful for people linked by Association or where the relationship is not known. One downside to this approach is that Weblinks are not part of the information passed from Ancestry online trees to desktop software such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic during the sync or TreeShare process, so it's also a good idea to record the association in Notes (which do get synced).

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    I agree re: linkage-based databases. But "orphaning" them makes it too difficult to keep track of them. I have information about them, just not specific knowledge about their parents, so they're in that awkward stage where it's beneficial to have them in the tree, but there's not a specific "place" for them. I will add a note to the Tree Overview to minimize the chances of confusing someone, and definitely minimize the number of dummy people -- one dummy for generic "I know nothing about these people's parents or siblings," and additional dummies where I know about sibling but not parents. – richardtallent Jul 19 '15 at 21:04
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    @richardtallent -- I absolutely agree that we need better tools for analysis. The existing tools are only good for recording the people about whom we've reached a conclusion. – Jan Murphy Jul 19 '15 at 23:17
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Until you have evidence to establish a specific parent/child relationship, you should not link the people together.

If you are "quite certain" they were all related, then there must be a reason why you are quite certain. As long as that's not a hunch or a conclusion based on hearsay, there must be something that supports your idea. If so, that can be your idea and you can link the people. You should be reasonably certain (with supporting evidence) as to how they are linked, e.g. first cousins through A's father's father and B's mother's mother.

You can then create the unknown people. If they are parents of a male, you can reasonably put in that person's surname, which the parent will be 95% of the time. Don't put in a first name. Never use "unknown" or "ancestor" or anything else. Leave it blank. If you don't know the surname (e.g. on mother's side), don't put that in either.

You can add notes to each ancestor to explain who this person would be and the people that this "placeholder" person is being used to relate. Attach any source information you have to this note.

"Wild guesses" have no place in an online family tree. Online trees get duplicated into junk genealogy of others who don't care about sources. So don't put anything up unless you can back it up.

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  • I would say wild guesses have no place in an online Ancestry tree unless it is private and unsearchable (so its data won't be used in ThruLines, etc). – Jan Murphy Sep 4 '19 at 17:37

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