Posted by Ancestry Team on May 15, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

For Mother’s Day, I wrote a post about taking your tree back as far as you can go on your matrilineal line:  I Can Take My Tree All The Way Back to Eve. How Far Does Your Matrilineal Line Go? Some who saw the headline for the post thought I meant Adam and Adam And EveEve from the Bible. But if you read the post, you know I didn’t mean Eve of Adam and Eve. It was just trying to draw you into the article.

But, it got me thinking.. Could you do it? And how would you do it?

Well, you do it the same way you do everything else in genealogy. You build your tree one generation at a time using the Genealogical Proof Standard.

It’s the same process you would follow if you are trying to prove the family legend about how you are part Native American. Or that you are a descendant of a Mayflower Pilgrim. Or that your ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War. You do it one generation at a time. Analyzing your sources and documenting as you go.

For every generation, we recommend you follow the tried and true 5-step process that we covered in  5 Steps to a Healthy Family Tree:

  1. Conduct a Reasonably Exhaustive Search. Collect as much documentation that you can to prove the previous generation.
  2. Cite Your Sources.  If you don’t know where the information came from how can you evaluate how reliable it is? And if you don’t write down where you found it, you will have to search for it all over again. And again. And again.
  3. Analyze Your Findings.  Compare and contrast the data that you have.  Don’t take anything at face value.
  4. Resolve Conflicting Evidence.  Was someone born in 1893 or 1897?  How do you decide which birth year is right and why did you decide that.  Again, if you don’t write it down, you won’t remember later. (Yes, I’ve been burned by this!)
  5. Write Your Conclusions.  Do you sense a theme here? Write It Down!

As for the trees that go back to Adam and Eve, are they correct? I personally haven’t seen one that is documented and analyzed to the degree that fits the 5-step Genealogical Proof Standard. But if you have, send me a link.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to extending my own family beyond my 3rd great grandmother Eve, trying to break down brick walls, uncovering my ancestors’ stories and hopefully inspiring a few of you along the way with new ideas—and having you inspire me in return.

But if you are trying to determine if something you see in a book, in an online tree or in a document is true, run it through the microscope of the 5 steps.  If you do that and you feel like a fact passes muster, then you can feel pretty good about it.

As one of my favorite genealogists, J. Mark Lowe, is known to say, “Mull and Ponder.” It’s easy to get excited and start growing your tree as far and quickly as you can, but if you slow down a bit and think about what you see, you might not move as fast or far, but your results will be better.

Happy Searching!



  1. Maybe not all the way to Adam and Eve, but what is the furthest back genealogy traced that meets your five-step standard? I saw that one of my ancestors had been traced back to the 4th or 5th century AD, but I find that very difficult to believe. And like you mentioned, it really was not properly documented for my tastes.

    But I would be interested to know if others have traced their family trees back to considerable lengths. Does anyone’s tree verifiably go back to any BC era?

  2. Bill Lake

    I am a retired Ph.D. scientist and my wife told me one day that the reason that I was so excited with family history and is that it allows me to continue to do the kind of research and data analysis that I have done for most of my professional life and to experience the Ahha moment when things come together. I only had to think for a minute to know that she was right. Now, as a scientist the hypothesis was a key component of the research. What are you trying to prove? Be clear and be specific. No experiment to prove a hypothesis was worth anything without at least three repetitions that gave the same results and/or supported the same conclusions and were reproducible by others. Presentation, publication and acceptance involved a rigorous review by peers. I am not sure how much I would want my own public tree to be judged by these same criterion but would be interested in comments about method and how it compares to Anne’s article. Any other old scientists out there?

  3. James Axtell

    I get the Genealogical Proof Standard, and I’m working constantly on documenting my sources. (It takes a lot of time that I might otherwise use to write my conclusions.) But if any number of sources have a date or fact wrong, how can they be disproved or squelched, in an tree? Of course I support the GPS and the scientific method, but I suspect few trees could pass these rigorous criteria. A lot of trees clearly lean to the “see what sticks to the wall” method. Just my two cents…

  4. sheryl

    it isn’t how far back you can go, but how fully you can document your family as you slowly trudge along. in my youth, i was thrilled to find other trees that traced my family back to charlemagne, but i think that is all bs now. finding all the brothers and sisters, etc., in a family is more rewarding, and, because i have a great grandmother who never shows up on a census until she is married, i really think it is great to pry down brick walls. what bothers me, though, is that others don’t seem to believe my research about her, but it definitely answers all the questions.

  5. Paula Tillman

    When I first became a member of, I was obsessed with going as far back as I could go on my family history. I quickly found ancestors dating back from the 1700’s on my mother’s side and discovered her family has been in America since the time of the pilgrims. My father’s side is French Canadian and I was astonished at how far back I could go because they were Catholic and kept great records of marriages. Now, I am going back and slowly filling in the details of their lives and getting to know them, not just the dates of their births, marriages, and deaths. I have found a renewed interest in American history as well as French Canadian history. I also want to find out more about my brick wall ancestors like my great great grandmother who came from Canada and married my English great great grandfather in Maine and also my Italian great great grandparents.

  6. Debra Moore

    In researching my grandmother- I noticed that her name changes continually. Listed as Chaie on arrival to US, then Helen, then Ida. Her last name was shortened too, the “sky” was removed from the end of her name in the 1940 census. How do I list this on the family tree?

  7. Thomas Putman

    I tend to be meticulous in my research. It’s difficult sometimes not to grab a quick result, but I need confirmation. I once ran into an astounding ancestor. My first reaction was yeah, sure like that’s true. I then set about confirming the finding. I worked for months on just one individual with one thing on mind….DISPROVING the connection. When finally I could shoot no holes in it at all, when all, and I mean all of the legitimate evidence pointed to the same conclusion, then and only then did I accept this person into my family. I always check every aspect about each clue. And if even one “fact” is false, I disregard the entire source.

  8. Margie Campbell

    I find so many errors, including in my own trees (others in the family have access to add records, etc.) The best we can do with Ellis Campbell b 1804 is via dna… it leads us to a Campbell/Gillespie connection…somewhere in Amherst county VA. If naming patterns mean anything…we have to look at Ambrose Campbell & his first wife, Nancy Gillespie. One of the dna matches for Ellis has a Fontaine Campbell b 1803 in VA (Amherst or Nelson county…I forget which). This Fontaine married as Fontaine C Gillespie, and the rest of the records for him are for Fontaine Campbell. We just can’t find any record of Nancy having children before she died & Ambrose remarried and left VA for OH. Hoping to someday find that piece of paper that shows if dna has us going in right direction.

  9. Ronda Tanksley Whittington

    After learning the hard way, many years ago, I have become obsessive with documenting anything that goes into my tree. When I started this journey sixteen years ago, I took information found in fellow researcher’s trees as gospel. Big mistake. I’m big on “about”, “circa”, “assumed” and make sure I explain why. Give me “slow and steady AND thorough” over how far back I go.

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