Then, I realized that this is exactly what happens when people try to trace back their real family trees. The omissions, name misspellings, and incorrect placements are a common part of researching family lines. The difference in this case is that we can try to track down and ASK these women for the truth. (Facebook is really helpful for this.) Imagine how much easier putting together your family tree would be if you could go back and ASK your great-great-great-grandfather what his wife's maiden name was or how many children he had. Instead, we have to rely on oral stories from grandparents (who probably heard it from THEIR grandparents), sporadic (and often unreliable) paper trails, unlabeled photographs, and, if we are lucky, maybe an old diary or something. Obviously, it leaves much to be desired in terms of accuracy, but, hey, sometimes it's all we've got.
So, I think that the process of creating and maintaining this sorority family tree is actually a very good 'experiment' of going through the real process of genealogy. When scientists try to study a certain phenomena or understand a pattern, they often attempt to accurately recreate the process and the variables on a smaller scale. In a real family tree, you usually have to wait 20+ years to add a new person to your lineage, and elders only live, at the most, 90-100 years. So, if you are lucky, you can grow up getting to know your grandparents and, hopefully, great-grandparents - that's three generations before you. The 'life span' of a college student is only 4-5 years, and these sorority trees are extended at least once, oftentimes twice a year. It perfectly recreates the growth of a family tree, just on a smaller scale. And the girls who created this tree obviously didn't know I would be thinking of this as an 'experiment' so it didn't make them try harder to make it accurate or research it more than they normally would have. We don't know what sources they used to make the tree - word of mouth? photos? Did previously graduated members actually write down the names of their big sis and grand sis? And now that us almunae know that they actually took the time to do this, I think we are going to try to help them correct this tree and create the others that are missing.
©2012, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder