Why It’s Important To Prove Parentage

One of the most fundamental things we can do as genealogists is to prove parentage. It’s important we correctly link the generations before moving up the family tree. If we don’t, we may be tracing someone else’s family instead of our own.

Depending on the time and place, proving parents can be easy or challenging. It’s easy when there are multiple records that directly answer your question about parentage. When there are few to none, it gets a little trickier.

I’m going through my family tree verifying my ancestors’ parents, and ensuring all my sources are cited…starting with the parents of John Edward McKamey, my great-grandfather.

Documents and methodologies for finding parents:

Vital Records: Birth, marriage, and death records are essential documents in genealogy. I found John Edward’s death certificate online. This gives direct evidence that his parents were John McKamey and Edith Hightower. 1

There is a marriage record for John Edward, but no parents were listed. I came up empty for birth and baptism records as well. Anderson County, Tennessee didn’t start recording births until 1881 and statewide registration didn’t begin until 1914.2

Census Records: Since John Edward was born around 1873, the 1880 census is an excellent place to start. He lived in the John McKamy household. Beginning in 1880 relationships were included in census records, so the fact that John Edward was listed as the son of John McKamy also gives us direct evidence of parentage. John’s wife’s name was Ada. I’m not sure if Ada was a nickname or Edith’s middle name as I have found her called Edith, Ada, and Eady.

Probate Records: These can be wonderful documents to search for proof of parentage. Unfortunately, in this case, there are no probate records. John McKamey died in the Fraterville Mine Explosion, so there is no will.

DNA Testing: I do have several DNA matches from siblings of John Edward that prove my lineage back to John McKamey and Edith Hightower. It’s important to look for descendants other than your direct line to help your case.

Challenges to finding the correct parents for your ancestor:

Incomplete Records: Genealogical research is sometimes hampered by incomplete or missing records, making it challenging to prove parentage beyond doubt. Sometimes you have to use indirect evidence to build your case. Indirect evidence is when you have a research question that is not directly answered by a source and its information. You have to combine it with other pieces of evidence to arrive at your conclusion.

Common Names: Common names can lead to confusion and mistaken identity. Distinguishing between individuals with identical or similar names requires meticulous attention to detail and a thorough analysis of available records.

Illegitimacy and Adoption: Uncovering parentage becomes more complex when dealing with cases of illegitimate birth or adoption. In such instances, alternative sources, like court records, adoption documents, and even oral histories, might provide vital clues.

Proving parentage is an essential aspect of genealogy that requires a blend of traditional research methods and modern technological tools. There may be challenges along the way, but making sure you’re climbing the correct family tree is worth the effort.

Genealogy tip: Take your time! Racing through the generations may provide more ancestors, but unless you take the time to prove the parent/child link, you may be doing a lot of research for nothing.

1“Tennessee, U.S., Death Certificates, 1908-1965,” file number 49-04105, John Edward McKamey, died 17 Feb 1949, Anderson County, Tennessee; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 10 Feb 2023), image 73; citing Tennessee State Library and Archives.

2 “Anderson County, Tennessee Genealogy,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Anderson_County,_Tennessee_Genealogy: accessed 11 August 2023.

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