The requirements of genealogy are:
First, an "eye single to the truth"; second, a power of sharp,
clear and logical statement of facts, a methodical way of
sifting, collating and arranging them, a capacity of seeing and
using the deductions which arise from them, and, particularly,
caution against a too ready reception of all sources of
information; third, the true genealogist should eminently
possess, both from nature and practice, the judicial cast of
mind, holding his judgment in such perfect equipoise that it
cannot be easily swayed by personal prejudices or extraneous
influences; fourth, above all, the characteristic which
distinguished the best genealogist is, what has been happily
described as “a relentless objectivity in the pursuit of facts.
. . . " The opinions of the genealogist should be so
carefully based on facts, and so fortified by references and
authorities, that his every statement should have the weight
and value of a solemn affirmation.
Yet, in spite of careful training and conscientious effort,
some professional genealogists make errors. I have in mind one
case where evidence was sought to confirm the relationship of
certain persons. After some search a will was found naming all
the persons in the problem. The report was prepared and ready
to deliver, when the genealogist thought of one more source of
information. He procured a census record and learned to his
surprise that the will did not fit his problem, because it was
made by the son of the man being studied. By a curious
circumstance all the members of the two families bore the same
Perhaps the most famous error in recent times concerns the
account of the kinship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Winston Churchill, and General Douglas~ McArthur. It was
definitely stated that both Mr. Churchill and President
Roosevelt descended from John Cooke, who came in the
"Mayflower," and his wife, Sarah Warren, the daughter of Mr.
Richard Warren, who also came in the "Mayflower." This account
was widely accepted as a record of kinship which would more
closely unite our country with Great Britain in this time of
The compiler of the article, unfortunately, had not found a
most pertinent record. Mr. Churchill descends from a Daniel
Wilcox, Sr., who married not just once, but twice, and the
second wife was a daughter of John Cooke, of the "Mayflower."
But it was the first wife, name unknown, who was Mr.
Churchill's ancestor, as the document proves" hence he is not
related to President Roosevelt on this line. This is just
another example of not searching far enough.
Perhaps the ultimate in careful genealogy is that used in
legal cases. Each item, each date, each place, and each
relationship must be established by a recognized and accepted
legal document. In contests over some estates, not just one
record, but as many as five or six legal records are used to
prove a point. Thus, in addition to a birth record, a marriage
record, and a death record, which in ordinary circumstances
would be amply sufficient to establish the fact, the
technicalities of the particular lawsuit may require a deed or
two, a will or two, a court record, and perhaps a census
The aim, in legal cases, is to prove the relationship beyond
any possibility of contradiction. Such work really constitutes
not only careful genealogy, but also scientific genealogy.
It is, not my intention to insist that all my listeners
become "legal-genealogists," but it is my intention to point
out that the skill and care used in legal cases should sooner
or later, be applied to every compilation. Then, and only then,
will we have the family history on which we can depend, and of
which we will always be proud.