Friday, February 4, 2011

Be wary of the online family tree...and my soapbox

I am going to step on my soapbox for just a moment and address some of my fellow genealogists. I must first caveat that I am not a professional genealogist, or at least not yet. I know I make mistakes and my research methods are not always solid. But I'm still going to complain about my biggest research pet peeve: accepting a found bit of information as fact without sources.

What brings about my wrath this time? Well, I was bored last night and decided to click on some of my ancestor names that I had not researched in a while to see if there were any new records for them on So imagine my joy when I see that mystical flashing leaf that makes use of on one of my lesser researched lines. I was hoping for a terrific find, so glorious that I would be the basis for the next Ancestry commercial. I clicked on it and was led to another subscriber's family tree. I always like to check out other trees because you never know what research leads you will find. This particular tree was sourced only by other Ancestry Family Trees. There is an option to click to see the individual family trees the subscriber references. I was surprised to find my own tree was used as a reference. I must admit that I was pleased that someone felt my information accurate enough to reference. But I also felt a bit dismayed. How could they be sure that I was right? Maybe I made the whole thing up for jollies. How would they know? I try to use sources whenever I can, but most of them are not referenced in my Ancestry tree. Am I a source Nazi?

It could be argued that the individual that sourced my tree (and the two others listed) was only sourcing it as a reference for one particular fact, or that they wanted to note it to return to it later. It can also be argued that they utilized the option on Ancestry to "Save this person to your tree," without a second thought.

I have worked hard to find the family on my tree and it is only fair that I share that work with others that may not have access to the types of resources I do, like family histories, photos, etc. Plus, what would genealogy be without sharing. Yet I feel that I must remind my fellow researchers of the dangers of accepting something sight unseen. Will it change the world? Will anyone get hurt? Of course not. But what if you accept someone's tree as fact and it isn't right? You think you're an Arbuckle but you're really a Wiggle. That could add up to research time and funds wasted.

I shall step off my box now.

1 comment:

TCasteel said...

We are of a similar mind. I once emailed a person wondering what there source was for something they posted.. Their reply: it was me! Taking something that I had queried about on a message board as fact and posted as part of their tree. Eke!!
Theresa (tangled trees)