I am increasingly surprised and worried by the large amount of undocumented and questionable genealogical information found on the internet.
I started this post, in my mind, a long time ago. It was the day I found myself listed as deceased in a big internet genealogy database. I always try to be kind and polite in my communication. However, I must admit that my email to the admin of the profile where I was listed, was on the sarcastic side.
Let me start out by praising the internet as a fabulous tool for us genealogists. The praise extends to all the genealogists who use the internet in a responsible way. There is a lot of well researched and properly documented genealogical information out there, so my heading is exaggerated, but it did grab your attention, didn’t it?
By writing this, I don’t want to put myself into some sort of genealogy “elite” or “police force”. I believe, as other genealogists has stated, that family history is a personal thing. We all had different reasons to get into genealogy. We all have a different amount of knowledge and time to put into the search. I don’t care how you record names, locations and sources, as long as it turns into the family history you wanted. Above all else, genealogy should be fun! It is fun. It is something to relax with and enjoy.
To me, the process is just as fun as the result. When I one day look up at the family tree I will print and hang on the wall, I want to know that the persons presented there are my ancestors. I want to know that I, to the best of my ability, have found and evaluated the documentation that supports my family tree.
The problem does not start when you put your data online. The problem starts when the next person copies your data and put it into his or her online database without checking it for accuracy. A lot of the data copied is not supported by sources. In addition, we all make mistakes.
When I do genealogy research and get stuck, I often just type the name I am looking for into Google and to see what it yields. I frequently find links to trees on one of the many genealogy databases or data presented on private websites. A lot of the information seems to be Ok, but very often the documentation is missing. This way it is difficult to check the information and the mistakes gets to live on.
I have also discovered a tendency to “invent” persons. I have Morten Knudsen who died at Fandrem farm (Selbu) ca. 1693. In a tree I found online, his father is listed as Knud Fandrem. Based on Morten’s patronym we understand that his father’s name was Knud, but Morten and his wife rented and moved to the Fandrem farm late in their lives. I find no evidence to support the idea that Morten’s father Knud had any connection to the Fandrem farm.
So, why do I worry about this? Can’t people just get to build their family tree the way they wish? Yes, I have great respect for people’s right to make their own decisions. I am, however, saddened when I see a beginning genealogist being very excited about all the information he/she has found, who later learns that their family tree is rotting in the root. I have had people contact me needing help with “some details” where I have had to point out that this or that connection is impossible to substantiate or that some of the information they have is wrong. No matter how kind and polite I phrase myself, it is not a nice message to send or to get. I have even had people get mad at me.
At the FamilySearch blog there is an interesting article called 3 Ways to Ensure Your Research Meets the Genealogical Proof Standard
I am fortunately not the only one blogging about the topic. Marty & Karla Grant has “A note about sources” in their blog.
Scott Simpson discusses this matter in his article “Are You a Genealogist, or Just a Collector of Genealogy?” – My Plea for More Citation of Primary Sources
Kory L. Meyerink at Genealogy.com also has some interesting views on sources and citations in the article Why Bother? The Value of Documentation in Family History Research