Recently I was answering a question for a patron and realized I see this situation all the time – researchers skipping generations in their search. I can say from personal experience that I completely understand why this is done, but here is the problem: If you don’t prove each generation is connected to the previous generation while working backwards, you may find that you spent a lot of time tracking down information on someone who may not actually be related to your line.
I like to use a personal example to illustrate this: I began genealogy when I was 11 years old. My paternal grandmother told me we were supposed to be descended from Gov. William Bradford of the Mayflower, but it had not been proved. Being a young girl who loved to solve mysteries, but with no one who knew anything about the correct method of genealogy research, I started with myself, my father, grandparents, but the line stopped, so I skipped wayyyy back to Gov. Bradford and traced his descendants through various sources. I spent 5 years tracing his descendants through 6 generations only to discover we are not descendants. I don’t consider that time wasted as I was able to help researchers who were descendants, but that was 5 years I should have been working on my own line.
Working backwards to prove each generation is connected to the last has been proven time and time again to be the best way to connect each generation to the previous. Moving forward, as I did is called reverse genealogy and there is definitely a time and place for that type of research, but not if you are wanting to prove connections from one generation to the previous.
If you have been doing genealogy by working backwards and are stuck, be sure to consider if you have done a thoroughly exhaustive search of all records available using original records. The books in our Genealogical Services department is a great way to get started, a large majority of which are abstracts or indexes of original records. If you are not able to come to our library for research, our genealogy reference staff can help you via email or postal mail.