Pop quiz

Research Problem 1

Courtesy Groton.org

After tracing your family line as far back as possible, you have run into the inevitable brick wall. You should: (a) persevere in your research and hope for an eventual breakthrough; (b) claim that you are a direct lineal descendant of Alexander the Great or King Arthur, acknowledging that your evidence is open to differing interpretations; or (c) give up and accept your failure as a genealogist.

ANSWER: (a), unless you’re like 27 percent of the amateur genealogists posting family trees on the internet, in which case the correct answer is (b).

Research Problem 2

You’ve discovered that one of your late seventeenth-century New England ancestors was hanged for bestiality. You should: (a) dutifully record the unsavory details of the embarrassing episode in your family history manuscript; (b) acknowledge that your ancestor occasionally “clashed with local authorities,” without providing any details; or (c) simply record the date and place of your ancestor’s death and say nothing about the circumstances.

ANSWER: (a), unless your wealthy great aunt (and self-appointed keeper of the family flame) is still alive and you’re counting on an inheritance from her, in which case the correct answer is (c).

Research Problem 3

Over the course of her colorful life, your great-grandmother was married nine times and had children with at least 15 different men. You should: (a) hire a professional genealogist to begin the mind-numbing task of sorting out all of her legitimate and illegitimate offspring, numerous stepchildren, and hordes of descendants; (b) pray that your daughters didn’t inherit your great-grandmother’s genes; or (c) abandon genealogy and take up gardening.

ANSWER: all of the above. 

Research Problem 4

You suddenly find that, through no fault of your own, the genealogical data files on your computer have reformatted themselves into a font resembling Cyrillic or Martian. You should: (a) devote the next eighteen months to retyping your files; (b) beat on your hard-drive and monitor with a tire iron; or (c) call one of your grandchildren for assistance.

ANSWER: (c) – although (b) will be immeasurably more satisfying.

Research Problem 5

At large family gatherings, your spouse enjoys pulling out the old family genealogy and entertaining everyone present with amusing descriptions of your various ancestors who were horse thieves or military deserters. You should: (a) smile indulgently and make a feeble joke about hoping you didn’t inherit your ancestors’ DNA; (b) cut the “amusing” entries out of the genealogy with scissors when no one is looking; or (c) consult a good divorce lawyer.

ANSWER: (c).

Michael Grow

About Michael Grow

Michael Grow, a retired history professor at Ohio University and a longtime NEHGS member, is the author of John Grow of Ipswich, Massachusetts and Some of His Descendants: A Middle-Class Family in Social and Economic Context From the 17th Century to the Present (Amherst, Mass.: Genealogy House, 2020).View all posts by Michael Grow