A newsletter reader wrote with a question that is asked often. I have paraphrased her questions a bit for readability purposes:
Using the hints function of Ancestry.com's Ancestry Family Trees it's possible to copy information from other public trees, but I've noticed there's no way to pinpoint the original source of undocumented data to ask how they came about their conclusion.
As a case in point, one of my ancestors is found on 17 different public trees, 15 of those trees name parents for him I've never heard of before, all sourcing 'Ancestry Family Trees.' Clicking on 'view details' it then indicates 9 of the trees are the source of the information. But which of those 9 was the first? Which is the correct tree?
Who cares which was first to be posted online?
As with ALL genealogy information found online, in books, or anyplace else, you ALWAYS need to look at the original records. In most cases, that means looking in microfilms or at online images of original records.
I love Ancestry.com's user-contributed family trees in order to find CLUES as to what the truth might be. Online information submitted by users can save a lot of time searching "dead ends." However, "Ancestry Family Trees" is not a proper genealogy source citation even if that is what people write in the source fields.
Online sources and books and other secondary records are great CLUES and can save you a lot of time by telling what MIGHT be true. It is quite common, however, to find contradictory claims online and in books that were published years after the facts. All of these records combined are otherwise worthless until you look at the original records.
Online sources have added a lot of convenience over the years but the basic fundamentals of genealogy research have not changed. In fact, old genealogy books printed years ago also often contained similar errors, the same as today's online family trees. Nothing has changed. You still need to verify every claim that you read in order to determine for yourself what is truth versus what is fiction.