Friday finds: A big pile of genealogical garbage

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?

social-media-1679307_640By 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.

Folketelling-2I 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.

chain-566778_640I admire WikiTree for the work to encourage their member to add sources to their information. They run a Sourcerers Challenge.

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 also has some interesting views on sources and citations in the article Why Bother? The Value of Documentation in Family History Research

6 thoughts on “Friday finds: A big pile of genealogical garbage

  • July 5, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Absolutely! Some online genealogies deserve a Pulitzer–in fiction. An unsourced piece of work is useless. A sloppy piece invites dismissal when what the originator had intended was sharing.

    A related issue is “genealogists” who have not taken Biology 101: children are NOT born before their parents, people who are dead do NOT have activity after their deaths, deceased children do not have progeny, etc.

  • July 5, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    The internet has been a great tool for us, but it also makes so easy for bad information to be spread around. It is not that people are being malicious, so much as that novice or very sloppy researchers post trees that at first glace look just as nice as those trees posted by careful genealogists. On perhaps the most popular genealogy site in the world, I saw a pedigree that included a child of the Scottish hero William Wallace and the Princess of Wales. This information was apparently taken from the movie “Braveheart”. Now “Braveheart is one of my favorite movies. But while it is a terrific drama, it is hardly a documentary. If memory serves me right, at the time of Wallace’s death, the future Princess of Wales was only about 3 years old, and thus could not have been the mother of Wallace’s child; the latter was merely an artistic invention in the film. Yet some viewer assumed the movie events were all factual, and used the “information” to add to a pedigree chart. I could give many other examples, but you get the idea. Pedigrees you find online should be considered as just clues or suggestions until you verify them by checking them against church records, etc.

  • July 5, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Wonderful article. Just getting started in the Genealogical search I have tried to find the source, then document it. My citation may not be in the correct form, to be corrected as I learn. Thanks for the links above, I will be reading them.

  • July 8, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    Very good points…my 2nd great-uncle is killed off by many in Lancashire, England, in 1906, while I know without a doubt that he died in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada in 1963.

    I imagine one person put in the incorrect information, and that was copied over and over. I contacted several people and only two responded to me…Once I shared my evidence, they amended their version of the family tree…however, the misinformation remains and I’m sure many others will end up copying the wrong info, thus perpetuating the problem.

    Some people new to genealogy don’t realize that other trees should be used as guidelines, and all information there verified independently, not copied indiscriminately.

  • August 23, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    So true! I can’t imagine how our family’s tree will look in a few years. FamilySearch has a noble idea of building one huge tree with everyone’s trees within it. And giving everyone the ability to correct errors when they see them. It sounds like a very helpful idea. But I’ve heard members complain that their correctly sourced entries were often being changed with unsourced entries. A vicious circle.


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