Ancestry is an Excellent Genealogy Resource, but its Member Trees? Not So Much

Writing in The Jersey Journal, Daniel Klein describes his experiences with Ancestry.com’s member-contributed family trees. He describes the problem caused by novice genealogists using information from a reasonably reputable source (The US Census) and applying it to the wrong person. Now other people have accepted this erroneous information as gospel and it perpetuates over and over. You can read Daniel Klein’s article at http://blog.nj.com/tracing_your_roots/2014/04/post_6.html.

I will quickly add that Klein writes only about his experiences with Ancestry.com but those of us who have been looking at online genealogy sites for years know that the problem is more widespread. It is not a problem solely on Ancestry.com, but also on all genealogy web sites that accept and republish user-contributed family trees without question or verification. Indeed, no organization can verify the information contributed by users. That would be a Herculean task.

I do have to agree with the one positive statement in Klein’s article: “…use them as a guide and not gospel. Take all information you find with a grain of salt, examine it closely, ask questions, check sources and then do all those things over again until it hits all of the Genealogical Proof Standard’s points.

We tend to treat this as a modern problem of the Internet. However, I will invite anyone to go to a genealogy library and look at the books published before the invention of the World Wide Web, especially the self-published books. Many of them contain huge errors and offer no source citations where the information was found. This is not a new problem.

I still use Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, WeRelate.org, WikiTree.com, and any other genealogy web site that I think might be able to help. I expect to keep using them for many more years. However, unless there is an image of the original document included, I treat all genealogy information online and in books as CLUES ABOUT WHAT MIGHT BE FACTUAL.

I have to agree with the first part of Daniel Klein’s title: Ancestry is an Excellent Genealogy Resource…

I still love online sites as they have saved me a lot of time by giving me clues. However, I always attempt to verify or disprove the claim by independent research.

One Comment

Family trees with unchecked data are the problem, not Ancestry or any other particular website. And, as you indicate, it way predates the use of the Internet. One of my favorite examples is my ggg grandparents in Schenectady, Neeltje Schermerhorn and Hendrick Bastiaanse. In a lot of family trees, both published and on Ancestry and other sites, she is given with a birth year of 1725 and his is 1783. I don’t think so! In fact, hers is 1781. But she did have a grandmother of the same name, born in 1725, which is where the error no doubt originally crept in. Even so, all anybody has to do is consider the birth years of the couple and they’ll suspect that can’t be a couple married in 1803, having children together until 1821! Most of the trees I’ve seen have the correct children–it’s only Neeltje’s year of birth that’s wrong.

Like

Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,470 other followers

%d bloggers like this: