Petty’s Paradigm on Prevaricated Pedigrees
By James W. Petty, AG, CG

Petty’s Paradigm on Prevaricated Pedigrees, simply put is:

“If you have an idea, It’s a Possibility,
If you write it down, It becomes a Probability,
If you publish it, It becomes a Fact,
And If it get’s quoted, It is Gospel Truth!”

A “paradigm” is a way of thinking. It is a concept that we have about life. It is how we think about things, true or false, that colors our view of the world, and moves us. We have all heard “All Men are Created Equal.” “The Earth is Flat.” “Santa Claus Lives at the North Pole.”

Petty’s Paradigm illustrates, with tongue in cheek, the rampant problem of presenting incorrect family history about ancestry in modern genealogy. Family stories, online family trees, and popular family histories, magazines, and productions, are all sources for good or ill of the effects of this misleading trend.

It is very important that we use the right paradigm whether we are making a simple decision of where to send our Christmas list, or doing complex genealogical research. When an untrue paradigm, such as the one about the Earth being flat or that all genealogy can be found on the Internet, is presented as being correct, and is accepted as truth, the results can become deep-seeded, and widespread.

Petty’s Paradigm on Prevaricated Pedigrees is seen in action over and over again in modern genealogy, with the plethora of pedigrees being shared online with little or no attempt to provide proof of accuracy. By merely putting things up online, incorrect ancestry is being established, as if it were the gospel truth. Sadly, even though such paradigms are not true, they are misleading and become very difficult to change.

“You can find all your genealogy on the Internet.” “My Great Grandmother was a full-blooded Indian.” “We are descended from royalty.” These non-factual concepts have been passed from generation to generation as family stories or traditions that have not been properly documented and verified. Many false ideas are presented and accepted as correct family history as they are passed from one mind to another mind like a rumor.

Incorrect paradigms, resulting from this false information being handed down or published, can be so deeply rooted that some people reject the truth about their family tree because the family tradition is so dear to their heart.

Petty’s Paradigm came about due to my earliest research on my own Petty family in Colonial Virginia records. For many years the Petty family was said to be descended from Thomas Petty, of Orange County, Virginia (which is true), and that he was born in 1680 as a son of Thomas and Rachel Morris Pettit of Essex Co., Virginia. From there, the family story was “the lineage went back to a Pettit who was the Mayor of Norfolk, England, and then onto a glorious family history beyond that.”

Wonderful tradition. But this incorrect family tree came as a result of a family story or rumor. Someone had an idea, wrote it down, and published it, and it became quoted again, and again, and so on.

When I first learned the family traditional story, I jumped into the records, and armed with correct genealogical training, discovered and proved through proper documentation, that Thomas Petty, also known as Thomas Patey, was the son of Hubert Patey of Lancaster County , Virginia . This changed Petty Family History and caused an uproar that exists to this day. One of the descendants of this family had been the President General of the Colonial Dames in Texas , and her qualifying lineage was based on this curiously, undocumented story of the Pettit family. Books had been published according to the old tradition, and volumes are still being published today, despite the overwhelming evidence and documentation that have been put forth since that discovery about Hubert Patey. Petty’s Paradigm was born.

Recently, we at HEIRLINES Family History and Genealogy conducted client research on the W. (William) W. Slaughter family tree that shows the importance of using the correct paradigm to accurately establish the genealogy. We found a published county history, which included a biographical sketch of the client’s ancestor, complete with family pictures (pictures make a statement even truer). The Edgewood History included undocumented historical sketches contributed by members of the community, and then, were published as “facts.”

The story of the W.W. Slaughter family included the detail that W.W. Slaughter was the son of T.H. Slaughter, who “entered the Civil War, after which he returned home and died three months later.” This simple statement directed the author of the county biography and many other readers thereafter, to believe the “T.H. Slaughter” who appears in Civil War records, and died three months after the War, was their ancestor, and therefore was the right line on which to research for earlier ancestors. This created a false paradigm.

This T.H. Slaughter was determined by our research to be Thomas H. Slaughter of Sumner County, Mississippi. He, too, had a son William, but his family remained in Sumner County, Mississippi in 1870 according to Federal Census Records. We found at same time the client’s ancestor, William W. Slaughter listed in the Hinds County, Mississippi Federal Census Record. This William W. Slaughter of Hinds County was determined through documented and properly conducted professional genealogy research, to be the son of T.H. Slaughter of Hinds County , Mississippi .

Additional research proved that this T. H was Tilman H. Slaughter, not the previously quoted “Thomas H. Slaughter”. The author of the historical sketch in The Edgewood History was mistaken in her research. What must have seemed like a probability was published and became a “fact,” and all of those descendants who use this resource today to learn about their ancestry, are headed off in the wrong direction. They are perpetuating the prevaricated pedigree.

Be careful with the histories and records you find, and make sure they are fully documented with sources that you verify before you quote or publish. Otherwise all of the materials you discover about your family tree may follow Petty’s Paradigm: they had ideas, and wrote them down, and then published them. Now they want you to quote them to make sure it becomes Gospel Truth!

But if you really want the Gospel Truth in anything, including genealogy research, you must follow correct principles of research methodology, documentation, and sourcing. And that’s a topic for another day.

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