Can You Really Trace Your Genealogy Back to Adam?

Why the answer is no

This perennial question came up today during one of my classes. It seems like nothing we can say or do as genealogists will counter totally unreasonable beliefs. In addition, the idea that someone's genealogy can be traced back to Adam or some other such historical person, has done more than any other issue to discredit genealogy as a valid and serious pursuit.

First, let me say that the issue is not with the Biblical genealogy per se, it is with the idea that anyone can trace a validly documented genealogy back to the time when connecting with the Biblical account is even possible. The rule here is fairly simple and can be stated as follows:

The moment you start copying your pedigree from some source and stop verifying the individual entries, you are moving from the realm of genealogy into fiction and fable. The point here is that there are very, very few verifiable genealogical pedigrees that extend back earlier than about 1500 AD. I usually use the date of 1550 AD as the earliest practical date verifying any genealogical records and even that is stretching the idea of proof quite a bit. There are a very few places, such as Spain, where some earlier records exist. Here is a definitive statement from

Various genealogies have been compiled for royal and noble lines. Some of these connect with the Bible genealogies which continue back to Adam and Eve.
Although it may be reassuring to some to think they have connected their lines back to the earliest times, such compiled genealogies contain many errors. None of these genealogies have been proven. Some pedigrees include the names of various gods from which the earliest ancestors of their peoples supposedly descend and which come from early folk tales or mythology. It is practically impossible to separate the fact from the fiction. At this time it is not possible to document a lineage back to Adam.

One of the questions that comes up frequently is what to do with one of these extended undocumented pedigrees when they appear in FamilySearch's Family Tree or on other websites.

I would most certainly suggest that the researcher go back to the earliest verifiable individual in that particular line and delete the unproven relationship with that person's parents. This will cure the problem until someone attaches the pedigree again. If you feel like you need to include a line back to Adam, I guess there is nothing I can say that will change your mind, but please do not claim that you are doing your genealogy when you do claim a line back to Adam.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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