Helping you get your genealogy right

The Importance of Sources Part II

Don’t Believe Everything You Read
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The Importance Of Sources Part II

You know, if you read part I, how important it is to keep good sources. The world will thank you. But just because you diligently record your sources doesn’t mean everyone else does. The internet is chock full of wrong information. Bad stuff. And because it’s the internet, this misinformation spreads like wildfire.

As much as I love Ancestry, recommend it, wouldn’t let my subscription drop for the world, their OneWorldTree is a bad thing. No, it’s not. Not really. It’s a good thing, but only if you use it right. Not only OneWorldTree, but other genealogy sites that let individuals add trees and individual web sites with their family history published. All of these are a blessing and a curse.

Never, never, never take anything published as gospel. Even if you see it repeated 100 times. Especially if you see it repeated 100 times! Often, that simply means 99 people copied the first person’s GEDCOM upload and merged it into their family tree without another thought. Perhaps it’s 100% correct. Perhaps it’s 95% wrong. You won’t know until you check it all out for yourself.

Check their sources. Do you see something missing? Most of the time, there are no sources. How in the world are you to know if they were just making things up as they went along? OK. So the one you’re looking at has sources. They must be correct, right? Not necessarily, although chances for mistakes are greatly reduced. Check them anyway. They might have James Hagan married to Eliza Camp when it was really his neighbor, James Hogan who married Eliza Camp. You, with your eagle eyes, would spot that immediately. Then what?

Do you try to take on the world and get that corrected? Do you contact everyone who has the wrong information published and tell them about their mistake? You could, but don’t expect anyone to listen. Only the serious researchers would pay attention to you. Most don’t really care. The only thing you can really do is make sure yours is correct.

As a personal example, somewhere out there, on the internet, is a tree that has my great grandfather listed with his family correctly, but as a fairly wealthy man who is now buried in New York. Uh, no. He lived in a Mill Village in Alabama, took in boarders to help put food on the table and is buried in the cemetery half a block from his house. My father knew him. Knew him well. There is absolutely no doubt. I emailed the submitter and never got a response. I hear countless, similar stories all the time. This type of bad information is out there and is never going away. As a matter of fact, it’s not even new.

Genealogies have been published, in print, for years and years. Go to your local library or a genealogy library. See how many have sources listed. I bet you’ll be shocked. There is a world of bad genealogical information on the library shelves. I was as guilty as anyone else of copying printed family trees and incorporating them into my database. Always with good intentions of proving all the information which brings me to my next thought. Should you or should you not copy that information?

Yes, absolutely, but keep it separate. It’s easier to work with that way. Don’t add information into your database until it’s been proven. Those family histories, mistakes and all, can be a gold mine for you. They most certainly won’t have all wrong information and many are absolutely correct. They can get you over that hurdle. This one says William Stone married Jane Baker in 1876 in Kentucky? Well, that sure gives you a starting place. Maybe you thought Willialm had gone straight to Tennessee from North Carolina. You hadn’t even thought about Kentucky. So you check out Kentucky marriages and, surprise! You find them! They’re also in the 1880 Kentucky census – with their first three children. Bingo! Double proof. And you thought the census taker skipped them that year.

In recap……
Go ahead and copy all the information you can find, whether it’s from the internet, a printed genealogy or word of mouth, but do everything you can to prove or disprove said information. Don’t be a spreader of diseased genealogies!