DIGITAL GENEALOGY - a double edged sword.

Email sent out: 2/8/2015

Within recent decades the world of genealogical research has radically changed. With tools like computers, genealogical software, email, the Internet, online genealogical databases and tools for exchanging genealogical data - it has become easier then ever to get involved with and rapidly accumulate and share genealogical information.

“A wonderful revolution in the field of genealogy!!!” many will say. And yet some (if not many) have found it to be a very double-edged sword - often in ways that maybe are not always readily apparent and some times not always easy to grasp – without actually experiencing it first hand.

 Both the pros and cons of common genealogical practices in the Information age have been widely discussed and there are various differing "camps" of perspectives on the benefits and the negatives of the genealogical world we now find ourselves in.

 To maybe better portray some of the issues - - let me share some differing  "invented scenarios" for the sake of  at least providing some “food for thought”. The specific details of which are made up - but the underlying issues very real and even some details very much based on fact.

I will share the stories in a "before and after" mode - with the memories of  Paul Harvey’s "Now you know the rest of the story" radio line.

Case #1

Mary Jane has to do a genealogy workshop for her club to show them how to use family tree software,  In her presentation she creates a fictional family in her genealogical database using the PAF program. She creates Father, Mother, and children - and shows how easy it is to create and print a corresponding family chart.  “Wow - what amazing things technology allows us to do!!” - she says.

Case #2

Bobby Jo - is tracing her family tree and doing research on the early Yanceys of America.  She has input her family tree into Family Tree Maker and traces it back to Charles Yancey of Virginia.  She reads that  Charles Yancey came to Virginia from Wales.  And being "cute" she enters a father for Charles Yancey in her database as "First Name: "Welsh"  Last Name: Yancey - just as a reminder as to where he came from.

She loves genealogy and hopes to trace the family back into the Welsh royal families. “Computers make genealogy so fun and easy” she says.

 Case #3

Billy Jean - has just received a copy of her cousin’s family tree database and uploads it into her own database. WOW! - a thousand names entered into her database in just a few seconds with a “database import”.  “OH1” but now there is a bunch of duplication between her original names and the new names just loaded  - - BUT NOT TO WORRY - thanks to technology - she can now merge these duplicates into single entries - using a the auto merge feature of her software.  She loves this way of importing into her family tree and soon has more than 50,000 names in her database –from files copied from others. What Magic!!!

 Case #4

Bubba Jim - has just acquired a copy of a book on his family tree that was published 100 years ago. (a rare volume that he just barely acquired) He spends weeks inputting the data into his family database. He is so proud of himself and wants to share his new found information with the world - so he uploads it to familysearch.  Everyone will be so grateful for him sharing his new discovery!!!

 Case #5

Jim Bob - has been building his family tree database on ancestry.com - he LOVES the "hints" feature that allows him to find others researching the same family names - and how he can "pull in" additional information from their database into his. He has now extended his Yancey family line three generations further - and even back into Wales and England.  He loves those “hints”!!!

 And now you hear the "Rest of the Story" . . .

 Case #1

The fictional family Mary Jane created for her workshop - was the family of Donald and Daffie Duck.  You may be interested to know she entered the family into her primary genealogical database.   She forgets to later delete the family.  Later she uploads her entire database to Ancestry.com.  Time goes by . . .  the data gets propagated across various databases - -  A few years later - The LDS church (founder of FamilySearch) gets a nationwide newspaper article about them  - when they are accused of doing LDS ordinances for the Donald Duck Family - - what a riot!!!!  Donald Duck is now Mormon!!

Case #2

Bobby Jo actually created a person in her database not of the name "Welsh Yancey"  - but actually  rather of "Cymru Yancey".  You see Cymru is how the people of Wales - call their country.  Later Bobby's database gets uploaded to ROOTSWEB - with the GEDCOM copy option set to yes.   Within months - this "CYMRU YANCEY" starts propagating across many rootsweb databases as the father of the first Charles Yancey of Virginia.  People who really don’t know much about Wales - have no clue that "CYMRU" actually means "Wales" - and that the entry is totally fictional.   “HEY - maybe its not true - but its the information I found” they say – “that’s better than no information at all”  they say.  Its a "clue" for me to look for more info they say – not realizing it’s a totally fabricated name.  **

 Case #3

Billy Jean  - Billy Jean – wasn’t very careful when she did the merge.  She actually clicked "YES" on various potential merges  - when she should have clicked “NO”.  Now she has one person with two different wives - when it was actually two different people – one with each wife.  She loads her data up to familysearch and now family search has the man with two wives. The two wives propagate across the world as people download data from familysearch.org.  ***

 Case #4

Bubba Jim - What Bubba Jim didn’t know was that the book was written by a genealogical farce of the 19th century and was mostly fabricated information.  What he also didn’t know was that Cousin Carol - had spent 10 years of her life - trying to carefully document and correct the errors introduced by that book.  Carol spent painstaking time in documenting the family correctly in familysearch and setting the family straight.   BOB just made trash of all Carol's work in familysearch - in just a few weeks.  Carol finds out and "murdering Bubba" goes through her mind.  How could someone so easily destroy her work of more than ten years. ##!!@@%%#$@!!#  Carol is now looking for Bubba Jim    and Bubba Jim - better run!!!  ****

 Case #5

Jim Bob

Did Jim Bob really extend his family tree into Wales??  Most (possibly all?) Yancey information prior to 1704 found in database like  rootsweb, ancestry.com, and familysearch has been found to be totally unfounded.  My experience has been that you ask the person where they got there info - and they hum and hah and say they got it from some other database user - when asked if they know of  any sources for it - they say "not really . . .  I cant count the number of people I have seen adding generations to their family tree that are based on pure garbage through features like ancestry.com hints - or through GEDCOM exchanges.  *****


 Though various of the details of the above are made up for the story - the base issue - is based on actual similar issues  often rampant in on line database like rootsweb, ancestry and familysearch.

 SOME specific notes of mine.

* I have on MORE THAN one occasion notified Family Search administrators of Fictional Disney Families in their databases.

This is not made up! -  In the first case - I asked them what they thought if a news article came out about the LDS do ordinances

for the Disney Families.  The data was quickly removed . . .  need I say more?


 ** Cymru Yancey - was for a time propagating on rootsweb.com

here is one place I currently find it:

take a look at http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/s/a/m/Darla-Sams-NC/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0066.html


*** GEDCOM data interchange for genealogical data exchange - has been an incredible benefit to genealogists. Unfortunately it has also been the means by which bad info so easily  propagates almost eternally. 


**** I can’t tell you the number of cases I’ve heard or witnessed similar to this situation.

How to keep good well documented information from being replaced by sloppy research and unfounded facts - has been and continues to be a challenge to familysearch - where there is ONE database for all - and anyone can potentially change just about anything they wish without even being required to have a valid email on file by which they can be contacted.


***** its amazing how people have such a craving to "fill in the void" of sparse details concerning family origin that they make wild conjectures   that over time get interpreted as if it was fact. It seems like any information (even if it is fabricated, false, twisted or a wild guess")   seems to hold more weight in people's minds then NO INFORMATION.  I welcome any information that anyone can supply as to real  evidence of Yanceys in America prior to 1704. Most of what is out there in family databases - is downright bogus.  In any family story it is almost without question - the information concerning origin that end up having the highest probability of  being in error - just because that’s the area that people have the least facts on  and to fill in the void - the fill it in with guesses and conjecture. NOTHING wrong with conjecture - as long as it is kept labeled as conjecture until proven otherwise.




Some suggestions and food for thought:











What are some of your pet peeves about the digital world we live in?

What suggestions do YOU have for those posting and sharing heir genealogical family data?

Let me know your thoughts. 

Dennis Yancey

The Yancey Family Surname Resource Center



Some web sites of interest:


Common Genealogical Mistakes



Genealogical Scams to avoid



Classes of Evidence



Weighing Your sources



Errors in LDS IGI files



Working with GEDCOM files



How do I know I’m right