Are You A “Trash Genealogist”?

NOTE: I originally published this article in this newsletter in 1998. Yet it is still a problem today. It surfaced again in an email message I received today from a newsletter reader. I receive similar messages most every week from concerned genealogists who don’t like to see online “fairy tales” in user-contributed information that is published in genealogy web sites. I expect to re-publish this article every year or two until the problem is solved. (I don’t expect it to be solved during my lifetime, however.)

While I am ranting and raving about genealogy home pages, I’ll describe another “problem.” This problem has existed for hundreds of years on paper. In more recent years the problem has spread to the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File and, more recently, to many CD-ROM disks containing collections of family trees submitted by some company’s customers. However, the recent proliferation of personal web pages has magnified the issue still further.

I can go to almost any Internet search engine today and within a very few minutes find hundreds of “genealogy fairy tales” online. I can find claims of births in Massachusetts or Virginia in the 1500s or in Utah in the 1700s. Time and time again, I see claims that a girl gave birth at the age of three or perhaps at the age of seventy-three. Twelve-year-old fathers also are common in online genealogy home pages. Doesn’t anyone ever check this stuff?

Please use the “sanity checks” built into the better genealogy programs! The exact name of this feature may vary from one program to another, but all the better genealogy programs have the capability to find suspicious data within a database. These built-in quality checks will quickly identify questionable data, such as very young girls or elderly women giving birth. If your program identifies such data, examine the evidence closely. Do you really believe it? And do you really want to put that information on the World Wide Web or on some genealogy CD-ROM with your name listed as the person who supplied this questionable data?

If you place genealogy fairy tales on the Web or elsewhere, are you labeling yourself as a “trash genealogist?” Please remember the three most important words in genealogy: “verify, verify, verify…”

Final Comment from 2017: These so-called “sanity checks” were already built into the better genealogy programs in 1998. Yet it is obvious that many so-called genealogists are not using the software tools they already have! Before you upload your family tree information to any web site, please run a “sanity check” on your information! Then correct the problems BEFORE uploading.

83 Comments

You are right. This problem will never go away. It’s why I keep my Ancestry tree private. Even when I have shared data and asked people not to put in on public trees, some do anyway and it proliferates. People attach relatives who are no relation at all or claim to be descendants when the ‘ancestor’ never married, had no children and died as a child. Depressing!

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Not only do people not seem to recognize conflicting data, but they put it on trees available to anyone such as ‘familysearch.org/tree’ and destroy the integrity of well researched information. Usually the source they attach to the ‘fiction’ is some other persons family tree which was also sourced with an incorrect family tree – on and on it goes. (Santa doesn’t read this does he? I’m not being mean, just supporting the subject.)

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    obvious you haven’t been keeping up with this site. Major campaign is already underway to purge fairy tales of dates and places as sources are located. You won’t believe how many families I found and broke up due to impossible data.

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    Yes, there are efforts on FamilySearch and WikiTree to get rid of bad information and correct errors, especially among the “Mayflower” and “Great Migration” families (perhaps an effort to avoid embarrassment during the upcoming 400th anniversary of the “Mayflower” voyage.) The FamilySearch “hints” now also include bad data warnings, such as “child born after the death of the mother,” and “child born before the mother was old enough to bear children.” What is amazing is how resistant some people are to the removal of clearly erroneous information. In one case, the contributor simply deleted the mother’s last name and birthdate to make the error message go away, and left all the rest of her information as is. Another person engaged in a long argument that boiled down to “everybody knows my version is correct, it’s been common knowledge for years and confirmed in all sorts of indexes and family trees on the web,” as against a more recent scholarly article that laid out the evidence, chapter and verse, showing why the commonly held belief was dead wrong.

    One big problem is careless use of the gedcom upload and merger features of these sites, by people who simply overwrite whole sections of an existing tree with their own unsourced data, erasing embedded sources and comments, plus three or four years’ worth of history showing who added what details and why, and sometimes even unintentionally creating orphaned profiles or even severing links to very large multi-generational sections of the tree.

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    I’m a familysearch.org user, and my well-researched, well-sourced tree (available to anyone) has never been tampered with. In fact, I’ve frequently found added branches that are equally well-researched and well-sourced, and that have only enhanced what I’ve posted. By contrast, a skeleton tree I posted on a well-known pay genealogy site (also available to anyone) with only a few posted sources was so altered by others that I hardly recognized it after a couple of weeks. My point isn’t to argue which genealogy venue is better, but to support the notion that quality work that is richly supported is usually so overwhelming to those who might be tempted to change it, that they simply don’t.

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    @real unknown4470317 December 17, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    Kate Davis, Can you provide IDs for some of your Family Tree people that have never been changed?

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But, on the other hand, I had a program tell me that it was unlikely that a woman over the age of 40 could be a mother. WHAT?! Several of my ancestors had babies in their 40s and I did too, naturally. However I agree with you Dick. So many people just copy stuff and don’t pay attention to whether it makes sense.

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Reginald J. Williamson December 13, 2017 at 8:41 pm

When I was first starting to use Ancestry I created a database with a completely made-up family of about 120 people. This was an exercise in order to understand how to structure my own real family database which I created separately later. I left the made-up family on Ancestry and forgot about it. It is still there. To my amazement and horror, there are numerous links created by other Ancestry users between individuals on this invented database and individuals in their own family database. These other Ancestry users have therefore claimed some of my made-up people as part of their own families. I am too amazed to remove my database and shocked that some people are so easily prepared to accept information from another database without checking it out properly.

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Hate when men have children born to them when the men are 1 year old – or dead a couple of years (or more) . . . men have these problems, too . . . even though they can produce children when rather young . . . or old. And children can be born much too close to one another to be a real possibility. Fascinating . . .

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Women do certainly have babies up to about age 48 or even later! Ya never know . . . . And i have friends with families in which aunts are younger than their nieces or nephews! Not every family fits our preconceived notions! Your cultural group may not be like my cultural group!

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    The point is that this phenomenon is rare enough to have you defend its existence here. That means it’s a good idea for any genealogy service to WARN a user that the information MAY be bogus; the user can then do as Dick recommends, viz. examine it more closely. I agree with others here who keep their tree at, for example, Ancestry private. Anyone who leaves the thing for others to pick from freely will soon find pieces of it floating around the Internet in all the most unlikely places imaginable.

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Compounding the problem are the genealogy services (Ancestry, MyHeritage and the rest) who encourage the perpetuation of bad information through tools like MH’s “Smart Matches”. Yeah, it’s up to the user to verify and validate the information before confirming the match, but the human tendency is to take the easy path (“gee, if they say it’s a match …”).

And how many of Dick’s “trash genealogists” are mere name collectors? If the name’s the same and the time’s in the ballpark, by golly, it must be the same person.

I won’t claim to be faultless. I KNOW my early efforts were slipshod. I’ve learned from my mistakes, though, and like to think it shows in what I’ve done in the last several years. There’s still room for improvement, though, and always will be.

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There are Researchers…, and there are Copiers. I’ve never discovered what the objective of the copiers is other than maybe getting to a high number of entries in their database where they’ve turned off the section that checks the math that could catch these ugly errors. They not only don’t care about the math, they don’t care about the spelling or locations (how can you be born in a location you didn’t arrive at until you were at least 15 years old?), and the last thing that concerns them is copies of actual documents.

A good Researcher will check the dates whether s/he knows them to be correct or not. A good Researcher will check the spellings used for people and locations, and check to see if the locations are correct. For insurance, the “audience” I write for will be alive some two or three hundred years in the future, not now, so I write out the full names of the towns, townships, counties, states – and never abbreviate anything. Abbreviations will likely change in the future and won’t mean the same two centuries from now as they do now. By then boundary lines may change again and again, but I list the locations as they are found in record books for the time period these individuals were/are alive, because that’s where future genealogists will find the records.

The year of birth for one of my gr-grandmothers is listed incorrectly on her headstone, six years before her parents and eldest four siblings arrived in the US; she and her next eldest and youngest sibling were born in the US (no birth record for her, just one birth record for her next eldest sibling; birth records for the eldest were all in Denmark). She is correctly listed in the state census as two months old. Her death certificate has the correct date of birth and date of death…, but the fellow who made out the death certificate erred by two years in the age he listed. I have NO idea why the incorrect year of birth is forever chiseled in stone because her birth year was always known in the family, but it is. Besides having a genealogy program with the math-checker (or whatever it’s called) engaged, I keep a hand calculator right next to the laptop – and I use it to double check my figures and that of other people.

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    I do the same thing. I don’t understand why someone use “Massachusetts, United States” in the 1600s. There was no United States then. I will go so far as to use “Massachusetts Bay Colony” and “Plymouth Colony” to refer to specific locations. I will then use “British Empire.” The only thing I abbreviate is “USA.”

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    Before my friend’s father died, he bought his headstone and had a birthday put on it. The date made him six years younger than he actually was. He did it on purpose.

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I agree with several of my fellow readers and Mr Eastman himself that the problem still exists and I don’t see any chance of it going away. I have referred to some of these types as “cut and paste researchers” as they don’t want to do any hard graft themselves in the world of genealogy ~ instead they would rather copy someone else’s work that may or may not be verified, or even be related to their own! Sadly I don’t think some of the big on-line companies do enough to denounce this either as they are at the end of the day not a charity and around to make money.

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A distant cousin, who believed that two people with the same name were the same person, put up a tree that claimed that our mutual great-grandfather died in Europe where he was buried–and then emigrated to the USA some dozen years later!

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So glad this is being discussed! One recent example I found online gave a couple 4 daughters with the same name, over a 15 year difference in birthdays, and random (sometimes close) deaths. All born prior to the first death! So not recycling the name of a deceased daughter.
Cannot believe so called “genealogist” continue to believe these online Fabrications!

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I have a distant relative that is so intrigued by the possibility of Native American lineage that I am convinced she manufactured one. DNA has proven me right , but yet she insists she is right.

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    DNA can’t prove that you aren’t Native American. It can only prove if you are. It is possible to have not inherited the NA DNA or not have your inherited NA DNA included in the data bases we are compared against.

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I call these folks “Clones” that put people in their trees that are unrelated to them, if you look at their trees they have no sources or records but have thousands of people in their trees.
I have ancestors that were born in St. George, Ontario Canada and people have them born in Georgia, USA….yeah right they were in an 1851 Ontario census but the child was born in Georgia USA the same month the census occured. Other people took the same info and added it to their trees??? No common sense.
I was adding a death record for a person and accidently added 1950 instead of 1850 but Ancestry warned me that they were already dead, ancestry does warn you of errors but people just ignore it. My program on my home computer warns me if there is an error in the information I am adding, usually it is a typo on my part. This was a bit of a problem when I added a child after the 20 yr period of a woman having children but I was able to raise the child bearing age to 30 years. My Great grandmother had 14 children during a 28 year period.
Some of these arrors are the fault of Ancestry and familysearch as they are dumbing people down by not adding County or at least. Co. I always make sure my records reads County. A big error that really gets me is someone born 1780 in Dutchess Co. NY, for instance, people have them born in Putnam Co. Putnam County did not exist until 1812.

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    The county issue is a great example of sourcing. Some of my ancestors also lived in areas before counties were established. When sourcing an area, I always put the current county for the ease of physical location for future researchers. I do not know if this is what should be done but I find counties helpful in physically locating towns.

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I have to say I am always suspicious of anyone who has many thousands of people in their family tree. When I add a person to my tree, no matter how distant the relation, I look for as much data on the person as I can find. If you have 20,000 people in your tree I can’t believe you had enough time to research them properly. I never put someone else’s tree as my source! I only trust the work I’ve done myself unless I know the researcher personally and know that they are serious and responsible about the information they put out there.

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I also blame some of the sites, including Ancestry. I have seen far too many hints, often incorporated in other trees, that are just silly. For instance, I might get a hint on a family with a common name and deep roots in South Dakota showing the 1925 death of their 5th of 9 children in South Carolina, though everyone else was born and died in South Dakota. A quick review will show that this hint is erroneous, since the “dead” person is on the 1930 South Dakota census, yet the hint was copied to other trees and is now a “fact” for Ancestry to provide.

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I wish that wrong info on the paid genealogy websites could be purged. I only subscribe to one and I find wrong info in almost every family tree I open. I try to let owners of the trees where I find a mistake know where it is and the correct data. Most of the time the correction is accepted and changed but sometimes I am totally ignored. I only do this when I am certain about mistakes. Perhaps if all of us who care about genealogy would do this we could clean up a lot of the mistakes so they go no farther. Just an idea.
Brenda Harrison Steele

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    I agree. I will kindly take the time to let the tree owner know they have an error when I notice it. Some folks are appreciative and will correct it. Others will never go back to correct it, especially in the trees that have thousands of names. I have been caught myself with date typo errors and appreciate when that has been pointed out to me.

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    Some times they are not nice about it at all. I have one line that I have been searching for years when all of a sudden everyone had a mother on it. She was younger than the child? Copy and paste but do not check.

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Or those cemetery sites where people have posted people 200 years old at time of death and then take umbrage if you suggest they recheck their data!

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As a genealogist who carefully documents everything, I agree. My research is deep, but not necessarily wide. In my timelines and narratives, I show the documentation for each and every family link. When I can’t find one, I explain why I believe the relationship is sound.

But what really bugs me are those genealogists who post worthless pictures on Ancestry.com and other sites. When I’m researching my immigrant ancestors and see a link to photo, I get really irritated when it’s just a clip-art cartoon of a sailing ship, or a picture of a flag.

I started as a generous and helpful researcher, but I’m becoming stingy with my data and with my family photos. I send them to a fellow researcher, and within weeks they are all over the Web with no credit to me.

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    I am getting very stingy unless it is a proven cousin and then I only give a outline of the members and they have to get dates etc.

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    Double negatives do not always equal a positive-only in algebra. A stifled tree has less room to grow than one that is allowed to free-range. Shared data stimulates responsive sharing in return. New data provides new clues. A solid researcher welcomes any new material available from all sources. Like the forensic examiner, the true researcher qualifies each component of new material. Private trees may protect but they tend to isolate and impede growth due to stagnation. Wise researchers productively understand inherent adversities and are expertly able to ply through various discrepancies. A compassionate and sharing genealogist will always rest in a better position to receive an abundance of, hopefully, complimentary material than, perhaps, the alternative productivity of a grumpy hoarder. Choose your own path, but remember that, for all, life can be shorter than you think, but through acts of sharing with others, much more can be accomplished within a broader scope and in a speedier fashion; thus allowing the true researcher more time for keen scrutiny and accuracy of all material handled. There are also high rewards in helping steer others towards more accurately expansive growth.

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    You say “Private trees may protect but they tend to isolate and impede growth due to stagnation.” My experience is exactly the opposite. The “teasers” available for private trees at Ancestry (I have one) drive researchers to establish contact with the owner and thus stimulate conversation while discouraging pilfering and raiding. That’s a good thing, much more productive than what happens when information is simply taken with little or no regard for its integration in a new tree.

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    What happens when your parents’, grandparents’ etc photos are posted to the trees of total strangers? And you start getting ‘hints’ from irrelevant and time-consuming fake trees?

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I’ve seen the same problem with BYU relative finder. I was recently shown a pint out of how a FHC patron was related to Brigham Young and was shocked to see that the wife of the “common ancestor” was born 13 years after the death of her alleged husband ! Worse yet, the patron insisted I was wrong because BYU would never make such a mistake.

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    I have seen things like this too. Years ago, someone had my father and his siblings in their tree. When I contacted him and asked how he was related to my family, he would not respond. Then I recognized that he had just copied all the people from a published genealogy in 1921. When I pointed out to him many of the factual errors in my family line that were in the book, he said “well, since it was published by a family heritage society, I assumed a genealogist had verified everything.” Still, he refused to change the information, and now it has been copied by the millions of name collectors that don’t bother to do research!

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    A public tree is simply that—PUBLIC. Photos, etc. “taken” from a public tree is not “pilfering”. Granted, due credit to the originator of all material is religiously expected. The plus side of always crediting every provider is that a useful registry of key participants remains constant. Common genealogical courtesy is a dutiful requirement and should never be ignored. Too many of my experiences with private tree owners have included total lack of response or such sporadic activity that resulting response times are so delayed that the inherent value is greatly compromised. I’m hoping that the majority of private tree owners have thought ahead enough to allow someone else to “pick up the ball”, in an accessible way, should this private tree owner suddenly drop dead. As for reckless parties callously or wrongfully affixing names to photos that are totally unrelated; most situations, such as those, will “come out in the wash” rather quickly to a skilled researcher. How often have you seen, in various publications, photos erroneously labeled? A regretful, but common experience……………A good researcher is adept in surmounting obstacles as such and moves on.

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    You’re more sanguine about the situation than I. I’ve simply seen too much to be able to agree with you.

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    A sanguinous approach, to me, seems more viable than a tendency to close the door. An open highway, even with all of the obstacles, retains more opportunity than a dead end. Finding the best fit, of any body of data–no matter the source–will always be the duty of the careful and avid researcher. Yes, I guess that I remain optimistic that repetitive hard work will prevail…………..but, if optimism dies–what is left? It is the sand of the dedicated researchers, like the lot of this group of respondents, including yourself, that continually assist the real truths to endure the precarious predicaments created by the careless and the lazy. I strongly rely on and place higher value towards the aspects possible from a wider view than upon decisions that tend to darken the scope. Support of public forums as opposed to private ones, to me, seems more promising and beneficially productive.

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    We agree to disagree.

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    John, I. most certainly, cannot refute your comment giving credit to a private tree stance’s ability to serve in, I’m sure, many ways, in establishing a certain degree of ease when facing “dealings” involving enquirers from the “swamp”; thus, better enabling, perhaps, one’s ability to sift through these data “seekers”, as a means of qualification before opening any type of time-consuming discourse—but I feel, in doing so, you risk the chagrin of those that will voluntarily turn back, before “knocking on your door”–thus resulting in a mutual loss of, perhaps, valid new data reservoirs of previously elusive & priceless material. I suppose that, either way, one case or the other might readily supplant either of our opinions.

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I so agree! I get so annoyed when I see that someone has messed with my family tree on familysearch.org. I am a diligent researcher and never assume that just because the name and location appear correct, that they are correct. I always double check that data can be confirmed before I consider it to be true. Recently someone “created” a family that included my own father and his siblings: they gave him a brother named Naztin! Well, prior to this, I had noticed that ancestry.ca had incorrectly listed my Uncle Martin as having the name Naztin: sure enough, this person had just copied the incorrect information into my personal family and created a new brother for my father!!! This type of sloppy researching and documenting really messes up genealogical recording.

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    By now I almost think that some I’ll willed just try to find any data on Familysearch any change it! It really annoys me that anybody can change your hard work on there!
    My brother worked really hard and even traveled to Eastern Europe to get dates off of gravestones. He was interested, but by the time he came back his family tree on Familysearch someone, of course anonymous, had deleted 3 of my mother’s siblings.
    Since he didn’t know that any idiot can delete or add data he did throw away his paper evidence. He probably thought that he would add a note that he is personally related to the people and was taken by still living cousins to those cemeteries, but right then when he added it to his tree he did not have the time, and date that was super difficult to get is now gone because of some jerk out there!

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    Eva — Did you try searching for the names of the missing sisters using the “find” feature of the FamilySearch FamilyTree? It is possible the person who made the changes only severed the link between their profiles and the rest of your father’s family, without deleting the actual profiles themselves. If that is the case the profiles your father created for them may still be in the database as “orphaned” profiles, with all the dates and other information your father added still intact, and it may be possible to recover them and reattach them back where they belong.

    If you can’t find them using the “find” feature, try the “help” feature for additional suggestions. This may be a situation that justifies a phone call to FamilySearch’s live helpers who really understand the finer details of how the database program “thinks.”

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    Happens frequently when transcribers are taking a “best guess”. Sometimes the transcriber does not have research skills with familiarity in terms or old writing. Then it is imperative to go back to a copy of the original.

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I’m a little bemused that the general assumption revealed here is that anything we read on the contributor-driven family tree is SUPPOSED to be flawlessly accurate. Personally, I consider data I find via such sources to be highly suspect from the beginning, and do not add anything into my own document until it is independently verified. But to a larger truth: the only person I can change is myself. I choose not to aggravate my days by fretting about what other people do or do not put into their fairy tales. Any lack of commitment to responsible scholarship only reveals their own carelessness. Frankly, these days, I find many examples of egregious falsehoods flying around that are worth fretting over, ones that afflict my life and well-being.

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    Just because there may be big problems in life is no reason to ignore the smaller ones. While I’m glad you don’t load into your tree a lot of the junk floating around out there, that fact does nothing to address the growing problem of trash genealogists discussed here by Mr. Eastman. Oh, and since when are family trees “fairy tales”?

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Legacy Family Tree Webinars had a session by genealogist James Baker on this very topic last night. It’s available for free until 12/20.

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What baffles me are the people who keep their own (presumably well-researched) data private because the website has erroneous trees.

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    Ann, I keep my tree private because everything may not be documented because it is a work in progress. I always help people out if they contact me.
    Brenda

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    My family tree will never be published digitally. I will always help people out but I invest far too much time to give someone a Gedcom of 4000 people.There are so many people out there “collecting” people for their family tree. Adding other peoples Gedcoms to theirs. Perhaps adding over 1000 people to their tree and never checking one of them!
    The automatic matching can be helpful but you need to verify everything. Unfortunately lots of people cannot be bothered. It’s the quick fix scenario. Adding as many people to their tree in the shortest amount of time.
    I used to point out to people who had obviously made errors in their trees. Apart from the odd abusive comment back, virtually no-one bothers to reply.
    I just get on and do my stuff. When I need some light entertainment I go on familysearch or Ancestry an laugh at the some of the family trees, it’s a sad life but it’s mine. Please don’t clean it up and take away the only fun in my life 🙂

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    I agree with Brenda, my tree is a work in progress. If I am contacted I will share but it is private and will remain so.

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Maybe instead of complaining here (to the choir) we should make a large group complaint (complaints?) to the major on-line sites to add the check system as an automatic part of their tree software. Might be the best way to teach people who care. As my grandmother said “Complaining doesn’t get the carrots peeled.”

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ALL DATA SOURCES CONTAIN ERRORS! This includes; census, birth, death, marriage, and any other official certificates. Women over 50 take in and raise babies as their own with no evidence to the contrary. Girls under 12 DO have babies, raised by over 50 gma.
2% of us are wrong about who our father is. Another 2% don’t know who their father is. .5% don’t know who their mother is. Some people charge to prove you descend from royalty or Elvis. LDS and Ancestery for years did not add any sources to what they showed. When you do have all the data collected and it conflicts, any decision you make is just as likely to be right as not. My genealogy of 56K shows 250 errors or 2%. This has been steady over the years as I make corrections and add more people. This is from memory, but I could write a book, a small one.

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    Yes, each time a record is copied the opportunity arises for new data entry errors to creep in, and you sometimes do have to make a decision between two conflicting versions of the facts. When that happens, it’s OK to do the best you can to decide which one is most likely correct, BUT you then owe it to those who come along after you to leave a note laying out the conflict and your complete reasoning for choosing one version over the other. For example, my grandfather has two different dates of death from two different official records. He died in one state and his body was sent home for burial in another on the opposite side of the country. I chose the earlier date because my mother remembered learning about his death on a holiday that fell between the two dates, and the record with the earlier date came from the state where he died, making its informant the closest to the actual event. The later date came from the location where he was buried, didn’t have an identifiable informant, and may have represented the date on which his body was received for burial rather than his actual date of death. There is a note attached to the tree explaining this, so that anyone who looks at my grandfather’s profile will be able to see the problem and decide for themselves whether or not I made the right choice.

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    Interesting. 1 in 200 don’t know who their mother is? If we ignore those with Alzheimer’s and general forgetfulness, that is an amazing statistic. Where did you find this?

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I never ever ever copy and use someone else’s data. When I see a tree that may include someone in my family – it is a hint. A very low level hint, never to be used until and unless it is proven by me, to be correct. I’ve requested blatantly incorrect data on my family to be corrected – nope, they won’t do it. They found it on someone else’s tree – they copied it and by gosh it’s right! One ancestor of mine has trees where he fathered children on two different continents at the same time, (beam me up Scottie). I shared some possible data years ago with a cousin on the understanding that it was not to be published since not all the info had been proven. He published it and even with incorrect data, he absolutely refused to take it down. I learned my lesson.

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Dick Eastman, A true story for the Genealogist of future generations, Woman who gave birth at 72 admits it’s harder than she thought; http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/09/woman-who-gave-birth-at-72-admits-its-harder-than-she-thought-6497936/

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Gotta remember we were all newbies once. I think taking a kind approach and being a “teacher” is a good response. Would rather see people make their trees publicly available, mistakes and all. We can help each other become better researchers that way. I see nothing wrong with leaving a nice note or comment suggesting a possible correction… maybe even offer to help them with the software, depending on the circumstances. I also agree with the comment that other people’s trees should be considered only “hints.” Sometimes they turn out to invaluable even if the person got some things wrong. They might also have family photos, bibles, etc…

Anyway, I would go gently with people who might still have a lot to learn. They might actually know more than we do about that family but simply be awkward with computers and the software. Also, as a tree gets larger, it gets harder to go back through all of it and find our own earlier mistakes. I for one appreciate it when someone points out an error in my tree. (Transposing dates is a bad habit of my fingers)

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Online trees can’t be held to the GPS and they shouldn’t be. I don’t worry about minor errors in these trees (okay, if the county didn’t exist when the person was born, so what, it still gives us a general idea), and I don’t want to waste too much valuable research time trying to correct other people. But the reaction of being stingy with our work and waiting until everything is “proven” isn’t going to help either. If anything, we need the best data and reasoning to be easily available to advance the research as a whole. There is a difference between sloppy research and thoughtful, well-reasoned theories that might lead to future breakthroughs. What worries me most about the current environment is that the latter is getting lost in the clutter. As G mentioned, notes and explanations are the key, but unfortunately they’re rarely used as they should be, and online trees and software just aren’t structured to handle the three p’s of probably, possibly, perhaps. Start writing (and reading) articles for genealogical journals! They are far better quality than most of the online trees.

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It’s not only checking ages appropriately, it’s copying other people’s trees or published genealogies with no evidence and perpetuating “junk genealogy.” IMO, that’s what about 80-90% of the Ancestry trees are that I have checked on my ancestors. Occasionally someone will show direct knowledge or will have clearly done the research but most of the time they have not. They also just add lines to their trees of people who might be far distant relatives, but again, not verified, and not direct ancestors.

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You mentioned that the problem had spread to the “International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File and, more recently, to many CD-ROM disks.” Those have been replaced by various Ancestry databases such as “U.S. and International Marriage Records” that are not actual marriage records, but marriages from Family Group Sheets that were sent to Yates Publishing, which also made their way into the IGI and AF. I don’t know how many times I have seen incorrect ancestries based on an incorrect “marriage” in that database. That, and all the other databases that are nothing but information from old family group sheets, I would like to see disappear. Even if you point out to a person where the information is from if they read the “Source Information” about those databases they think it has to be correct and an actual marriage because it is in a database of “marriages.”

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David Clark – Lack of DNA is not proof that your relative does not have a Native American ancestor. My Native American ancestor is well proven, but it is so many generations back that none of her DNA shows up in me. FYI – my brother and I show most people in common but there are a few who show up as related to him and not to me and vice versa. On AVERAGE, I get 1/4 of my DNA from each of my grandparents, 1/8th from each of my great-grandparents, etc. Those are averages. I may get more from one ancestor and less from another. It is the luck of the split. DNA test results are not easy to understand. I suspect that universities will be offering degrees in deciphering DNA results.

I am in my 70 ‘s and realize I won’t be around forever. I have several entries in my tree whose first name is “speculation” followed by what I think is the correct name, dates etc and notes as to why I think this is a possibility. I hope this will help whoever uses this tree to know at a glance the information has not been proved.

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Some errors even come from respected sources. Recently, I was wondering why a French Canadian was supposedly born in British Columbia in late 1700s (!). The source was 1861 census at MyHeritage (Ancestry has this same error). The abbreviation of BC in Quebec census in 1851 and 1861 does not refer to British Columbia but comes from Bas-Canada: French for Lower Canada what the province was then called. It has been transcribed with its present-day meaning. If you don’t know much about Canada and its history, and if an established site tells you a Quebec resident was born in British Columbia, you put it in your tree, even if it may sound weird.
I have pointed this grave error to MyHeritage – it distorts thousands of records – and hope it will be corrected.

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    Yes, even ‘respected sources’ need to be examined carefully. Ancestry.com has its invaluable Emigrant Bank records saying Kings County, meaning Brooklyn NY, when the correct info for most such refs is County Kings, Ireland. And of course, County Kings is now County Offaly. I have requested their correction to the Kings County/County Kings matter several times but they never fix it.

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Part of the solution is sourcing and someone else only family tree isn’t a source unless it provides some piece of information indicating were the data came from. The only time I use online trees as sources is when the subject data is to recent to have an official source available and then only as reference.

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    I only use family tree data if it is documented. If I family tree has nothing but family trees as sources, I just move on

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I think “trash genealogist” is too kind. They are “trash collectors”. In no way are they a genealogist. I can’t call my husband a plumber just because he installed a new faucet. I, too, try to find proven information. It does irritate me that you can change tree information on the FamilySearch web site. I love FamilySearch to find information, but I have no tree there, never will. And, I never ever attach Family Group Sheet “hints” to my tree on Ancestry.com.

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It’s not just a matter of citing sources on a tree — I have seen too many examples of completely inappropriate census pages, or birth records, or baptisms, etc., attached to people in a tree in order to justify preconceived notions. In anything but the most simple cases, you need your proof argument: why are they references to the same person, why did they travel 200 miles and then back again, etc. At last year’s RootTech — in a meeting you were present at Dick — I outlined a way that FamilySearch could integrate their unified trees and stories to support proof arguments, multiple interpretations of evidence, personal stories, and eliminate edit wars. I subsequently expanded on that outline at http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/2017/02/feeding-trees.html. The thing is … it’s probably a step too far. Modern genealogy is now just about clicking on electronic data and building a ‘tree’. It’s a sad state of affairs but the damage is too deep.

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Your last sentence hit the nail on the head … about clicking and building a tree. Even the ads on the TV here in Britain follow that when they say, “Just type in a name and watch your tree grow …”. It upsets me as I continue to seek proof while researching my family history.

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Patrick Allan Wilson December 27, 2017 at 8:41 pm

Please! The amount of false information on all these websites is endless. I found that my 4th great grandfather Jasper Wilson who was actually born in 1763 in York County, PA on Ancestry as born in 1763 in LA California. If one would take all this false information literally the whole genealogy of the U.S. would be a major screw up. This reminds me of the kids who copied every body elses worthless homework. Do your research and verify with documentation.

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I realize I am a “Trash” researcher. I don’t call myself a Genealogist, because I have not had any training on how to do it properly.
.
Does anyone have any suggestions for a guy who just tries to make sense of all this data ?

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    Yes, suggestions for you and so many others. The first step in becoming a “genealogy researcher” is to join a local Genealogy group in your area. It doesn’t matter if your ancestors don’t come from where you are living as the people in that group will network with you and help guide you to ways of improving your research skills and you get to meet people who share the same interests.
    Second step is to find ways to educate yourself on the areas your ancestors came from and the history of the records from that area – what is available and what isn’t and where and how to find them.
    I am not affiliated with Legacy in any way, but being a paid member for their webinars is one of the best money one can spend to have access to some very knowledgeable people on numerous subjects. As a paid member one gets the syllabus of the webinar as well as being able to watch the webinars over and over or when convenient. Start with the free ones and you will soon want access to those you missed!
    All records, no matter where they come from, should be treated as “tools” to get as close to the truth as possible. Even records with false information have something to tell us and it is up to us to make sense of them and explain what we think they mean.
    I began as a “trash” genealogist more than 20 years ago – like everyone does – the issue I think now is that if you want to grow your tree you have to realize your tree needs a strong root system or it will come crashing down at some point. Make a plan. Trim branches that somehow got grafted onto your tree that don’t belong. My rule is if a person doesn’t print in a register report then I am not related so not likely to do follow-up research on them – off they go for the family they belong to that will research them and find “their” story. The only people I put in that I’m not related to (but show in a register report) are the parents of the spouse that married my relation.
    Sorry, long winded, but time for some positive suggestions people!

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    And if, your local community has no genealogical society, or your can’t get out to one, there are plenty of very good videos online to help you get started. Ancestry Academy (you don’t have to belong to access the basic ones) and FamilySearch being two.

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1) Practice your critical thinking skills. Always keep an open mind and don’t let yourself jump to what seems to be the obvious conclusion. Ask yourself if there is more than one possible way of interpreting the information you’re gathering. Example: Two sources give slightly different dates of birth for John Smith. Ask yourself why? Is one of the sources mistaken? Are they both talking about the same person? Might there have been more than one John Smith born in the same area at about the same time? Is there more to the story than appears at first glance?
2) Be patient. You may not have the experience or resources to figure out all the answers right away. Write notes to yourself about it, so the next time you come back to that person, you’ll remember the problem still isn’t solved. You’ll learn new skills with experience. New sources may become available. You may meet someone who’s already been there and done that, who can give you advice on how to find what you need. Be patient, don’t worry, and eventually, you’ll figure it out.
3) Decide early on what is *most* important to you and adopt a goal. Do you want a huge family tree, with as many names and dates as possible? Would you prefer a smaller tree full of intimate details about the daily lives and personal experiences of the people in its branches? Do you want to prove royal ancestry, or join a lineage society? Having an overall goal will help you to focus your research and keep you from being lured into the rabbit holes that lead to chaos.

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Lots of good suggestions here. Another thing I’d recommend is Ancestry’s Desktop Education course (on YouTube — I don’t think you have to be an ancestry.com member to watch them). Ancestry.com also has Ancestry Academy (under Extras on the ancestry.com home page). Most of the other major genealogy sites also have their own education courses and/or links. The Desktop Education courses on YouTube (by Crista Cowan, just search for the course name or hers) are chock-full of excellent tips for learning to be a “researcher, not just a searcher.” (There are many lessons specific to older ancestry.com software but also many about how to build a well-documented family tree regardless of which genealogy sites you prefer using- look for those – worthwhile!). She also points out that even as a professional genealogist herself, she knows she has errors in her tree. We ALL make them and it can get difficult to go back and find them when you’ve become more experienced and have built up a larger tree.

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    As long as we’re mentioning brand names, please let me put in a plug for the FamilySearch.org “Wiki at: (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page).
    It has articles on evérything from where to find the records for just about anywhere in the world, to historical boundary line changes, to the history of specific communities and related migration patterns — you name it and it’s probably in there somewhere. Best yet, it’s FREE!

    Happy New Year to all and Best Wishes for all success with your research in 2018.

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Anyone that accepts any tree data as gospel only adds to the problem. All trees must be considered as hints only until duly proven by careful checks and balances. Published works, even older genealogical manuscripts, frequently contain gross flaws. Anyone suggesting perfection forgets the fact that the only person that God made perfect was Jesus. No one else-period. We honor our ancestor by submitting our classiest work that is well documented or, if impossible, at least well foot-noted with explanatory beliefs of reasonable nature. There isn’t a certificate, Bible record, newspaper (or any other type of publication), official record, tombstone, etc. that never has been blessed with a mistake at various times–and more often than what we would care to imagine. Sensitive handling of ALL forms of data will generally maintain a straight and narrow path. An old New England traveler once advised to ask directions from a bare minimum of three distinctly separate people before trekking further into the unknown. Careful checks and balances, common sense, and careful accountability helps to provide the most useful trees for others to scrutinize. Perfection is impossible.

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Being a trained researcher, your editorial strikes a familiar chord. In both HS and College debating the “fairy tale” quotations often cropped up to exactly clinch a point and it was a pleasure to win the debate by proving the quotation was “manufactured” by the debaters or a spurious source. In “debating” other’s claims of royal or presidential ancestry it is often necessary to just quietly (and if possible privately) show a person the error of their “researching” ways. ….. Hope you will return to Roswell soon.

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    I must agree……………..the reliance of employing spurious cliches such as “fairy tales”, “fake news”, etc. within a debate adds zero credible argumentation and is tantamount to blasphemy.

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    I think you misinterpret what Mr. Gammon was saying, perhaps deliberately to score a wan political point. Cliches often express a well-known truth, things like fake news, the kind that we now know surrounds us, that is often used to denigrate political enemies of the fake news media. And, “blasphemy”? Really?

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    Perhaps my choice of word comparisons was somewhat hasty, as I imagine that you must be placing my viewpoint within a “liberal” classification–something that I’m definitely not. And, I support our President’s definition of “fake news”–I just can’t buy using the cliche “fake news” when trying to apply it to genealogy.

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