Thursday, November 04, 2010

What shall it be?

Serious research or cut-and-paste?
Made from scratch or out of a box?
Collecting names or building a true family history?
These phrases come to mind when I take a look at some web-based postings of “family trees.” Recently I have had the opportunity to explore certain features of usually open only to fee-paying members (thank you, Family History Library).  The family trees posted there are amazing to behold, in their intricacy, scope, and detail, and I enjoyed finding familiar names in some of them.
But would I simply add any such branches to my own files, even if I could?  Not on your life.
There are so many errors, assumptions and guesses the eyeballs roll.  Even the mistakes look familiar, because I know of at least one instance where my own halting beginners’ efforts were picked up from a now-defunct publication and added, by some unseen hand, to the Ancestry World Tree.  Bits and pieces have gone on to replicate themselves like slime mold, reappearing in many another tree; there, of course, they are unencumbered by a single credible source citation.  
One of my favorite examples (not of my making) is the half-dozen or so trees that cite Vincent Batson Tanner and Winifred Gardner as the parents of John Tanner.  Winnie was born in 1804, according to each of these, and John came into the world nine years later.  Did anyone stop to think that perhaps -- IF Vincent had a son John b. 1813, he might be from a previous marriage?  And the “source citations” for these connections are -- each other.
It is not a crime to make an educated guess.  But please --  please -- say that’s what it is!  What really gets me was that for “sources” Ancestry suggests that genealogists simply cite “Ancestry Family Trees.”  Oh really? 
I could go on about  this organization, which some say is trying to become the Microsoft of the genealogy world.  Their ubiquitous Internet ads and “gotcha” signup screens can be ignored, but I do tire of the person on TV who says, “You don’t have to know what you’re looking for -- you just have to look.”  Ask any serious researcher what she or he thinks of that brainless approach.
Pardon the rant, but I had to get this off my chest.  Now back to business.  
And to all you readers who are Ancestry adherents, I know this doesn’t apply to you.  Their databases and indexes can be enormously useful, and  I’m sure you accept the family trees for what they are: providers of CLUES ONLY (however tenuous) -- to be followed up, proven or disproven. Or ignored.
PS  A note to the person who sent a comment re the Gabberts and Sherwoods.  If you can send me a message using your own email address (I can’t reply to the comments message), I’ll be happy to share more of what I have about this family.  Mary Ann Sherwood was my great-grandmother’s sister and I am fascinated by her story.  My address is on the profile page.


Nancy said...

You hit the nail on the head! I haven't looked at trees for a while and I'm afraid to imagine what I might find.... One of these days maybe I'll be brave.

Deborah Large Fox said...

AMEN! The worst is when a relative or client is convinced that the error-ridden tree on Ancestry is correct--after all, it IS on Ancestry and they followed those "leaves!" And, one of my early trees with errors is in that World Tree also. I've tried to track down and delete, but to no avail. Love your blog!