How to Record Genealogy Information Found Online

A newsletter reader wrote to me and asked a very simple but important question: “How can one consolidate and/or assure that the different online systems have the same, correct information?”

I think there is one quick answer. I wrote a reply to that person but thought I would also publish it in this newsletter as I suspect many others have the same question:

“When finding information online that was contributed by other users, you should always assume that it is INACCURATE until you personally verify it by searching for original records.

“In contrast, information found online that includes images of the original record(s) is generally accurate, with a few exceptions, such as records of two people who have the same name or similar confusing records.

“I record everything I find in Evernote whether I think it might be accurate or not. However, I never record such information in my primary genealogy program, and the title of each Evernote includes the word UNPROVEN.

“Once I prove to myself that the online claim has been independently verified, I move the information to my primary genealogy program and then delete the copy in Evernote.”

14 Comments

Thank you, Mr. Eastman, this is helpful.

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Hi Dick
I take your point.but have a caveat. I m one of very few left in a once large family; the others are singularly uninterested in genealogy. I felt it was my mission to take my grandmother s passion for family origins to a new generation.,
When I started some 25 years ago, it was unsettled territory online but now there s stuff everywhere. I no longer keep up with all the latest sites and sources but I have a lot of direct family knowledge as well as the results of my own research. I do reenter sites to scan or check from time to time and am appalled at continued poor transcriptions, conflicts or mistaken tales. I know that formal records are often wrong, and I try to correct them where possible, i.e., if I have access and time, noting the original source.
Many folks alas prefer the official source or or quick glamourous story. And many sites do not seem to receive corrected information.
Should I just give up and let history take its course? I had the dream of writing a complete book on my family but ill health and age make that goal seem to be floating away.

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Sage advice: The first rule of online genealogy. Ought to be printed up as a poster (suitable for framing) to be displayed next to the computer of every new genealogist.

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Sage advice: The first rule of online genealogy. Ought to be printed up as a poster (suitable for framing) to be displayed next to the computer of every new genealogist (and of some more seasoned ones).

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Good article. Off topic but mentioned in your article is Evernote. I believe you have had an article on it before but, if not, might be a good topic. I know I would benefite fro how you use Evernote. Been contemplating taking the Evernote plunge myself.

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Your reply is so true. I will also add a note. If you have letters, writings, etc, of your ancestors, include them in your genealogy information. These may have first hand information on family events (births, marriages, deaths) and that can confirm what is recorded in registered documents. Also maybe you have a family member who wrote memoirs of events as they remembered them. Include these. Sometimes a memory will be the “grain of sand” that lets you locate a document to corroborate other things you have found.

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I have found copies from 1800s of my grgr grandmother’s time in a mental institution..The writing is small and I can’t find anyone capable of translating the old German..Can you give me advice??
On Thu, Jan 23, 2020 at 4:50 PM Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter wrote:
> Dick Eastman posted: “A newsletter reader wrote to me and asked a very > simple question: “How can one consolidate and/or assure that the different > online systems have the same, correct information?” I think there is one > quick answer. I wrote a reply to that person but though” >

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Good advice we all should remember. This reminds me of one aspect of your sponsor, MyHeritage, that bothers me. MyHeritage encourages people to accept “Smart Matches” of profile information from other people with little information on the sources. Its “Record Matches” also are generally from other websites, such as WikiTree, FamilySearch, Genii, etc., and are not what I call “records.” The push to accept these “matches” and “records” gives little opportunity to check and verify. I wish MyHeritage had some way to accept a match without adding it’s information immediately to one’s tree. I like your idea of saving information in Evernote until it’s verified, but don’t see how to do this with MyHeritage.

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    —> This reminds me of one aspect of your sponsor, MyHeritage, that bothers me. MyHeritage encourages people to accept “Smart Matches” of profile information from other people with little information on the sources.

    Yes. MyHeritage does provide OPTIONS to accept data without verification or to NOT ACCEPT DATA without verification. The choice is yours to make. MyHeritage simply provides the tools and then leaves it to the individual genealogist to decide which option he or she should take.

    DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is sponsored by MyHeritage so obviously I can be accused of being biased. In fact, I would probably be the first person to make that accusation! I am sure that I am biased.

    However, I honestly believe if the discussion was about some other company’s options, I would still have the same opinion: I believe providing OPTIONS is always a good thing. I don’t believe any company should force anyone to do things in only one certain manner (as many companies do). Customers should always have options to save and examine data in whatever manner they feel is best.

    I will suggest the more options, the better!

    The only “problem” I see is how to educate newcomers about the lessons learned by other genealogists over the years.

    The only solution to that “problem” I know of is to broadcast educational guidelines in books, magazines, online newsletters (such as this one), in local societies, in adult education classrooms, at conferences, and anywhere else where genealogy newcomers will learn about the experiences of others.

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Great idea especially for amateurs like me. I do try to verify, but like many, I get a bit lazy. Thanks for putting this on line.

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Thank you for an excellent idea. I like the ‘unproven’ tag and will add it to my Evernote files.

I would also second the idea of looking at original documents rather than transcriptions whenever possible. I find too many mistakes in Ancestry, maybe due to transcribers with English as a 2nd language. Almost none in FamilySearch where every document is transcribed by 2 people and arbitrated when they differ. I also find many useful little gems such as document witnesses or questionable name spellings.

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    the biggest problem I find with FS transcriptions is the 2-3 people doing each record –they are ALL posted and the searcher many times grabs the first one they see which may be wrong information (spelling or complete name.) They should only post the final decision and the original record. I have found many I can’t for the life of me see where anyone could misread it for what they entered. I just found one entry from records I, myself had self published. The record of all from the church place, except this one, when in fact Checking the original was from the same area as all the rest. Transcriber error. How can that happen?? lack of attention I guess. Transcribers are needed, but please be able to READ and stay focused. Sorry but facts are facts.

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I think there is one quick answer.

With all due respect, I would offer a different response: The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).
Researchers of all levels of experience get distracted by wanting to be “correct”. They should instead be spending their time and efforts on properly recording ALL information with citations so that, should they or another researcher find a different source that contains the same “error”, they can evaluate it for accuracy. That same information could also provide clues that open avenues of additional research by yourself or others.
One should not simply disregard information, but include those records with added notes as to why it is believed to be incorrect.

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