Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lesson Learned: Don't Trust Online Family Trees

I received an email this week about the ancestry of Susanna Page (ca 1611-1691) who married Thomas Gleason (ca 1610-1686), asking if I knew who her parents were, since there were several sets of parents given in the Ancestry Member Trees.

The background on this can be found in:

*  Who were parents of Susanna Page (ca1611-1691)? (posted 19 April 2010)

*  English Parish Record data and Forrest Gump

*  Images of the Will of Thomas Page (died Hawstead, Suffolk, 1637)


To summarize - I found that Thomas Page of Hawstead, Suffolk was the father of Susanna (Page) Gleason, based on a message board post that referred to a 1637 will in the Suffolk Probate records.  While in Salt Lake City in 2010, I found the 1637 will of Thomas Page of Hawstead with the help of the FHL staff.  

In the first post listed above, I found that there were numerous sets of parents given for Susanna Page who married Thomas Gleason.  The Ancestry Member Tree collection had 78 total matches with 11 different sets of parents.  

Two years later, has anything changed?  Silly me, that's a really dumb question, isn't it?  

Perhaps the better question is "has anyone picked up on the real father of Susanna (Page) Gleason based on the found information in the message board post and/or my blog posts?"  

I searched the Ancestry Member Trees for:

*  first name = susan* (exact)
*  last name = page (exact)
*  birth = 1613 plus/minus 5 years
*  spouse = thomas gleason

There were 335 matches.  

Rather than work through all of them, I decided to add another Search term:

*  father = thomas page

There were 12 matches, but only four correctly identified a father Thomas Page who died in the 1636 time frame in Suffolk County, England.  

It appears that only four out the 335 (slightly more than 1%) who have Susanna Page in an Ancestry Member Tree have her father correct.  How special is that!  Now I'm wondering how many actually read either the message board post or my blog posts and added it of their own accord, or if some just copied it from someone else.  

Actually, there is progress - 1% now have Susanna's father right, up from 0% two years ago!  

What does this mean?  As we all realize eventually, many of the entries in online family trees (including Ancestry Member Trees) are copied from the trees of other researchers without any check of the possible records involved.  I admit that I did this over 15 years...and now I'm in the process of trying to fix those problems by finding authoritative sources (published, images on microfilm, or images in record collections). That's a lot harder to do than copying information from an online tree, but it's the right thing to do.

The lessons learned (again) is:  Don't trust online family trees.  Use them for clues.  Verify the assertions, add source citations for assertions, etc. for every person in your tree.


Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver

4 comments:

plc718 said...

Love this post! I use the trees when I am stuck but I use them as clues, not facts. It's like wikipedia - a great place to look for clues but then one must go do the research on one's own to verify the information.

Fi said...

And this is why my Ancestry tree is private.There are too many errors I don't want copied. I also have a warning on my profile explaining that I'm happy to allow access, just be aware it is a work in progress and watch out for mistakes.
I agree with plc718 comment about using the trees as clues, then doing my own research. Great post, Randy.

MidwestAncesTree said...

I rarely look at the ancestry member trees unless I am really stuck. But sometimes I do just take a peek, and post a comment when I see incorrect data. In the comment I will direct the person to information I have found that disputes what they have in their tree. I offer to answer questions or assist them in their research. I have done this 100s of times and have heard back MAYBE 5 times.

What can you do? I think a lot of people do not get notified when oomments are added to their tree (it is an option thru Ancestry.com I believe), and if they don't look at their tree often, they will never notice it. It seems the majority of ancestry member trees have no documentation, no records attached.

If I notice someone has information that I cannot verify, I will ask them where they obtained the info...often it is from other ancestry trees (both on ancestry.com and other internet trees).

Maybe if we all try to teach the people who are assembling and gathering these trees, it will eventually get thru to them?

DEBBIE STARR JACKSON said...

(VISION IMPAIRED..NOT YELLING :)
HI RANDY, AND GENEA FRIENDS.. I HAVE A SUSANNAH PAGE ON MY HUSBANDS SURNAME "JACKSON". SEVERAL OF MY FAMILY HAVE TRIED TO RESEARCH THIS LINE.

I ALSO KNOW THE SUSANNA YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, AND I AM GOING TO GO CHECK RIGHT NOW TO SEE IF I HAVE THAT ONE ON HIS LINE OR NOT.


I DO THINGS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT. I USE TO NEVER ADD ANYTHING UNLESS I HAD FOR SURE PROOF, HOWEVER, BEING HOUSE BOUND,AND MY HOME IS THE INTERNET I GET WHAT I GET.
I DID BUY WORLD ANCESTRY, WAS A MEMBER OF NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES ADN GENEALOGY BANK. BOTH OF THOSE HAVE EXPIRED BUT, I AM TRYING TO RENEW THEM IF I CAN FIND A GOOD DEAL. I AM HOPING MOTHER'S DAY WILL GIVE US A GOOD DISCOUNT PRICE :)
ANYWAY, WHEN I DID NOT UPLOAD THINGS I FOUND I COULD NEVER FIND THEM AGAIN FOR SOME REASON SO, NOW ON ANCESTRY THINGS I REALLY AM NOT SURE ABOUT BUT, THERE IS A POSSIBILITY I PUT IN MY "SHOEBOX".
"ANCESTRY LEAVES" THAT I CHECK I WORK THROUGH THE MERGE THE BEST I CAN. I LEAVE MYSELF A NOTE FOR THINGS THAT DO NOT SEEM QUITE RIGHT, AND GO BACK TO TRY OT RESEARCH AND FIX THINGS, AND THEN SEND EMAILS TO THE TREE OWNERS TO LET THEM KNOW WHAT I FOUND , AND ALSO SEND A SOURCE.
I ALMOST NEVER ADD ANYTHING WITH OUT SOME KIND OF SOURCE BUT, I HAVE LEARNED THAT REALLY DOES NOT MEAN A LOT SOMETIMES :)
I WOULD SAY THAT I HAVE FOUND THE BEST TOOL I HAVE EVER USED DOING GENEALOGY IS "CHANGING THE SPELLING OF NAMES". I HAVE FOUND MORE SURNAMES IN THE LAST 10 YEARS BY CHANGING THE SPELLING OF THE NAME TO "THINKING OUT OF THE BOX"..TODAY, I WENT FROM A "HARRISON" WHICH I KNOW FOR SURE IS THE RIGHT NAME, TO FINDING HIM IN THE 1900 CENSUS UNDER THE NAME "DARRIAN" BUT, IT WAS HIM AND THE FAMILY..HE IS THE BLACK SHEEP AND HAS A REAL "INTERESTING PAST" BUT, HIS NAME HAS BEEN SPELLED WRONG SO MANY TIMES I COULD NEVER FIND THE STORY, AND ONE DAY I CHANGED THE SPELLING, AND WITH A COUPLE OF GENEA FRIENDS WE FOUND HIM, AND THAT WAS THE "REST OF THE STORY" AS PAUL HARVERY WOULD SAY :)
THANK YOU RANDY FOR EVERY THING YOU DO FOR US.EVEN WHEN I COULD NOT DO GENEALOGY I WAS TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH YOUR GENEA-MUSINGS AND YOU. HUGE HUGS FROM ALASKA..HAPPY HUNTING DEBBIE AKA ALASKADEB XOXOX CREATOR OF
"OBAT-ONE BRICK ATA TIME" ON FACEBOOK