The new world of Family History Research
live in a day when the methods and tools and available online systems
out there for genealogical research have dramatically changed over the
past two decades. The world of genealogy in todays world would be
totally foreign to those of the 1900’s.
are the days of the previous century where much of genealogical
collaboration was done by US mail and research usually meant
visiting a library, family history center or courthouse.
even with the dawn of computers – gone are the days of about 20 years
ago when people were hooked on genealogical list servs and
state/county base GENWEB pages seemed to be the greatest thing ever.
live in a day when even a newbie can log on to a site like Ancestry.com
or other similar sites and very easily create a database going back
various generations and do it all within a few days. It
seems to be so easy to leverage the work of others and to enlarge one’s
database without having to do much of the “hard genealogical
research”. The hits and tips and reports of possible needed
merges - - seem such a wonderful world to the newbie. It all
seems so easy for anyone to do - and so fun to learn about these newly
yet there are many who wonder if we have actually gone quite
“down hill” in our genealogical work and genealogical standards and the
quality of the average persons genealogical data.
many people out there focusing on how quickly they can “grow their
family tree” - - how they can leverage the “work” (sloppy
or not) of others and how easy it is to just click a few hints
and tips and add a whole branch to the family tree (with no clue
as to whether its accurate or not) . . . and so few actually thinking
about the impact of what they are doing – (not just as it relates
to the data quality of their own database) but as it relates
to the world of genealogy and millions of users around the world.
mean what a person does in their own private genealogical database
is their prerogative. Let them do whatever they wish.
This is America by the way - the country of freedom and liberty.
lets just think about a very simple and extremely common scenario and
how it can impact hundreds or even thousands of users on genealogical
Doe has just signed up for Ancestry.com – it is so cool!!! He
starts entering his family tree – his father, his mother and
grandparents. He uploads a few photos and sees a photo pedigree
chart – and can’t believe how amazing this is. The genealogy bug
has bitten and bitten hard!!!
many of his cousins are also Ancestry.com users and have also entered
their family tree data. He quickly finds ways to add his
cousins family tree data to that of his own data – and he sees
just how easy it is to start adding new people from the info already
added by his cousins - and not have to type in all the information from
scratch. Soon he has entire branches on his tree almost
appearing out of no where like magic - - - This is genealogical HEAVEN
he has to look at trees besides his close cousins - but they are his
new found cousins - and they too have collected quite a bit of info
that he is able to leverage. This is like mining for gold - so
awesome! Eventually after various generations - things slow down
a bit - and John has to look harder for additional steps back on the
genealogical ladder back in time. But the "leaf hints" that are
such a cool tool in Ancestry make it easy for John to see end points in
his family tree where a possible match on someone else's tree could
allow him to break the brick wall. Within a few clicks he has
added a new generation and links to the old world ancestors.
Sunday John's first cousin Jane Doe comes to visit. John is
eager to show his new passion to cousin Jane. Jane is much more
analytical than John and more skeptical of whether new information is
actually correct or not. John in an attempt to impress his cousin
Jane prints out a cool photographic pedigree chart.
begins to analyze John's family tree and notices various
anomalies. In some families John seems to have various duplicated
children by the same name or multiple spouses with the same
name. John wonders how that happened. Jane also
quickly notices that the immigrant ancestor John traced back to - was
one Adam Doe - and his wife Eve Doe. And she breaks out laughing.
. . . and tells John his genealogy must be complete if he has already
traced back to Adam and Eve. As John and Jane analyze the data
more closely they recognize many errors and conflicts in the
data. And Jane realizes much of this data must have come from
their crazy Old Uncle Bubba Doe.
was quite the genealogist in his day - but couldn't quite figure out
the computer when he got one - even though he never gave up trying. In
his years of learning the computer and at the same time dealing with
the onset of Alzheimers - he had struggled to put all of his records in
the computer - he finally felt he had it right - but not without
hundreds of records being mis-linked, duplicated, generations skipped
and even inter-relationships mangled. It seems his data had somehow
made it onto Ancestry - and that is what John Doe (among various other
databases) had been copying in the data from his "cousins".
Jane point out more and more issues with John’s Family Data – John
begins to wonder how he will ever get it all straightened out. He
begins to wonder how he can differentiate between what is actually
correct in his database and what is not.
also notices – he isn’t the only one who has this apparently “bogus”
set of immigrant ancestors of Adam and Eve Doe. He sees that
numerous Doe family researcher in Ancestry have also copied this bogus
info – apparently from the “hint” feature of Ancestry.
The memory of Uncle Bubba
will live on forever - I guess unfortunately “in
infamy” - - as his quagmire of bad data seems to live on forever as the
bad data propagates endlessly across the Internet – like
wildfire. And good trustable info seems to mainly find its way
only to a select few researchers – totally frustrated when they
look at online genealogical databases and willing to shoot Old Uncle Bubba at first siting.
Some tips for people using on line applications that allow for sharing of genealogical data follow
Some tips for fellow researchers
of the most common regrets – by a newbie in genealogy who is beginning
to morph into a more serious researcher - - is their lack of keeping
track of sources on the data they compiled up to that point and the
lack of identifying items as having some sort of proof or not in their
the difference between primary and secondary sources and what rules to
use as to the reliability of your genealogical "facts".
you gather family data – try to categorize it into what can be
supported by referenced source documents and what can’t. be sure
and compile references to these source documents.
that even if a database on line “is yours” - if you have made
your on line database “public” – information in it (most
especially about early generations of a family - that may be of
interest to hundreds of other researchers) then it may have
the tendency to very easily propagate from your database to other
people’s database - - especially through what many on line systems have
created through “hints”, “tips” and other possible connections pointed
out to you by the system. Things like guestimates, theories,
inferences can be copied by others as if they were fact.
Internet is full of “well –intentioned” family researchers – who
unsuspectingly get caught in this temptation of accepting “hints”
in their family tree without doing their homework in really analyzing
the validity of the records. Realize that BAD
information can so easily propagate the Internet like wildfire – where
as GOOD information is usually so much slower. Consider the
research concerning the very earliest members of a family line – as a
real example the Yancey of early Virginia about 1700. The truth is no
one seems to have found any primary evidence for any Yancey living
prior to 1704. And yet if you search on line databases like
ancestry or rootsweb – you may easily find various people who have
names, dates, marriage etc, before 1704. After 30 years of my
own family research – I don’t know anyone who has any proof
of exact Yancey birth / death dates prior to like 1750
– and no primary records at all before 1704.
And if you ask anyone where they got their exact dates or names and
relationship for these early Yanceys – they just shrug their shoulders
and say “Oh I just copied it from “so and so’s” database.
to the “hints”, “tips”, “possible connections” pointed out in the
paragraphs above by the system you use on line - which may
seem like an extraordinarily wonderful tool that allows you to grow
your family tree faster than ever - - - - on the reverse side of
the coin – it may also be a propagating wildfire of totally false and
erroneous information that few seem to be able to stamp out. What
you entered very innocently – could in a few months be replicated in
hundreds of individual databases – and turn out to be totally false.
others working on the same families as you - - compare notes and ideas
and information and compare the information you have with others
to get ideas as to its validity before you start uploading it into
collaborative systems. Before just accepting a hint – see where it came
from – talk to someone else about why they think it may be correct or
incorrect – before you fill your own database with very shady
that doing genealogical research is much more than
GATHERING/COLLECTING family information. With time - -as you
spend more energy on analyzing/cross checking/weighing information that
you have collected - you will become a much better
genealogist - and you, instead of just getting confused by
collecting more and more conflicting info, will be able to make sense
of growing pile of conflicting info. Don’t just be a “collector”
of info – be an analyzer of info.
· Take into consideration the difference between genealogical databases or systems that a) you
have on your local computer that maybe you (or only a few people may
have access to - example PAF or FTM on yor local PC b) data
that you upload to databases on line such as Rootsweb or Ancestry.com
where in though you retain your database separate from others - none
the less others may very easily be able to COPY information
in your on line database to their database and c) Collaborative
online genealogical systems where there is a single database used
by many users and where one person can modify or delete what another
person has entered into such system (such as FamilySearch.org for
you use all three of the above systems at different times and ways –
realize – it may not be a good practice – if you are not modifying the
way you work based on what type of system you are using.
(private / on line and public / collaborative)
you update something in some collaborative system – seriously consider
the possibility that what you may be entering – might possibly be
totally wrong information. Also realize that information that
MIGHT POSSIBLY be correct – is not always better than NO information at
all (especially if you don’t even have a clue if it is
actually right or not. And what if it turns out to be blatantly
internet has its pros and cons as it related to genealogical research -
- - but the excuse that many people once had - - -that they didnt
have access to primary records to confirm their data - is no longer
true. A multitude of source documents can be found on line - much
of it free of charge - such as census records, probate records, death
certificates, and a thousand other sources.
that one system or database does not have the monopoly on genealogical
data – don’t limit yourself – just to one system when gathering
the HUGE difference between databases that are merely database
submission of genealogical data people have collected and
submitted versus other databases which are based on
extracts from official and primary documents. (such as the
difference between a person’s database on rootsweb - - as compared to a
Social Security Death Index database – as part of some online system
that houses many databases).
that many on line genealogical system are a MIX of
both family tree’s submitted by thousands or millions of people - - as
well as databases taken from primary official sources. And just
because you find the family tree data to be highly flawed - - does not
mean that the other databases taken from official sources also have a
high degree of flaws - - - it’s like comparing apples and oranges – and
yet many people often make an evaluation of or have a certain bias
to a given system by the reliability (or lack there of)