Sunday, August 18, 2013

Compiled genealogies


The above screenshot is from FamilySearch’s Family Tree. James Simmons happens to be my 4th great-grandfather.  I always take a look at Family Tree and’s public and private member trees to see  what all is out there.  That doesn’t mean that you start copying everything you find into your file willy nilly.  Anything you see is merely a clue. 

You notice that James has birth and death dates.  That is pretty impressive considering how far back in time we are looking at.  Where did this person get these  exact dates?  There are no sources listed.  The first thing I would do is I would e-mail the submitter and ask them where they got the dates.  In this case I already know the answer to the question because I am the submitter.  So why didn’t I include the source information?  I was using Legacy to interface with New FamilySearch (the predecessor to Family Tree) and uploading sources was not possible.  I do need to go back and fix that though.  I have his exact birth and death dates because those dates are recorded in his son’s Bible which survives. 

Even if the entry is sourced, you still have to verify that source.  If someone cites a marriage certificate you want to see that marriage certificate yourself.

Tomorrow we will look at an example from where the information is not correct and many people have recorded that incorrect information in their trees.   That is why there is a big red “but” on the slide.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I usually ignore online trees for the very reasons you cover here Michele.

    However, yesterday I ventured back to Ancestry's Public Member Trees to see if anyone else had got past my own brickwall. What a waste of time. I couldn't find any tree with appropriate sources, except for one census image and even that showed their own data to be wrong.

    I noticed that one tree had a couple dying in 1844 (man) and 1833 (woman), and yet still cited an 1851 census page with both present on it. Worse still, I noticed the same data on 3 or 4 other trees too.

    There are several huge issues here: lack of respect or appreciation of source references, blatant copying with no attribution, and no way to indicate that a tree is 'tentative'. I haven't seen anyone discuss this latter issue yet. We all have phases where we're still trying to make the pieces fit together, and where our data doesn't yet make sense. However, there's no way to flag it and prevent the copy-and-paste folks duplicating stuff that is clearly full of holes.

  2. I have talked about this several times on the blog because this is such an important issue especially for new researchers who haven't figured out yet that everything you read on the internet isn't necessarily the truth.

    You can't ignore online trees completely though because there are some excellent researchers out there that have also posted their research online. You check the trees because the possibility exists that one of those researchers has been working on your line of interest :) A couple of time I have contacted someone with an online tree who gave me what I needed to break through a brick wall, you just never know. As long as you are wading through the trees with a skeptical eye then you will be okay.

    Also, don't get too frustrated. Many of the people posting online trees just don't know any better because they are newbies. After they get a little research under their belts many of them realize their error.

  3. IMHO Michele, the root of the fault is with the content providers. They don't really offer the level of functionality that would prevent such errors, or - like I say - indicating a "hands off" until something has been kicked into shape.

  4. One solution would be that would prompt you for a source every time you added a fact. Even if the person didn't have a source at least he/she would be forced to acknowledge that by checking a box or something that says I don't have a source for this. That might get a few people thinking that maybe they are supposed to have sources for stuff. The problem with this is that allows entire unsourced GEDCOMs to be uploaded. Some people have thousands or even tens of thousands of people in their file.

  5. This is great advice. I went back and looked at an old Rootsweb World Connect file of someone I had cited and reread the submitter's notes. I found some clues indicating the presence of some records that ended up being of value that I had just forgotten about.