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.