Friday, July 19, 2013

Follow-Up Friday - Interesting and Useful Reader Cmments

Here are some of the interesting and useful comments from Genea-Musings readers this week, and my responses (if warranted).  I'm not going to list all of the comments from each post:

1)  On Interesting Questions About Online Family Trees (posted 15 July 2013):

*  Elyse said:  "I don't have an updated tree on Ancestry only because I can't transfer my tree to someone else if I die. I know that technically my descendants could download it to a GEDCOM, but it won't look the same. I'd rather put my tree on WikiTree where I can easily pass it on to someone by just adding them to the Trusted List. (And no, I'm not just saying that because I work for WikiTree). What I like about collaborative sites is that you can share an ancestor profile - and if a tragic thing were to happen where I died or could no longer do research, someone could continue my work. This could work on sites like WeRelate (perfect if you never put living people online) or WikiTree.

"I understand why people put their tree on Ancestry - I've just never really seen a need."

*  Dr. Bill (William L. Smith) commented:  "I'm like Elyse in that I do not use the Ancestry Family Tree function. I was an early and continuing contributor and participant in WikiTree. I like it very much. Yesterday, coincidentally, I looked at the FamilySearch Family Tree (wiki!) and connected my name (all I had since I first registered) to my parents - they, and most of the rest of my research over the years, was already there. I went in and did some editing on the far distant pass relatives...correcting errors from prior work, that they had picked up and recorded (from somewhere). It was actually quite gratifying to see it all there, for the world to access and comment on, should anyone so choose. What an interesting life we lead! ;-)"

*  Victor noted:  "Most of the researchers appear to use only what is available on The few that have worked on my family do not have sources listed beyond US census records. A majority of the none attributed information appears to be based on my early shared research and/or my tree on the old usgenweb. I update my tree on, because my ancestors were Germanic Europeans and there are many researchers on that site doing original work in non British European records."

*  Geolover said:  "All Public Member Trees are mirrored on Any registered user, whether a subscriber or not, can search and view any tree there. Anyone can create a new account just to view trees there. It is a rather clumsy interface, and has been in 'beta' for several years - but still free. Trees that are 'private' on are not supposed to be shown on, but there have been glitches."

My comment:  I've tried to access Mundia, but it seems very cumbersome and slow.

*  T explained:  "I've been doing this for more or less 3 years. I put my tree on as a public tree BECAUSE of the misinformation on 99.9% of the trees I found when researching my own family. To name a few: wife's parents attributed to husband, brother's children included with own children, information about a niece of the same name as wife incorporated with wife's information, wrong place or date of birth, wrong spouse, extra children, children not assigned to the right mother or father, children born after the mother had died, children older than either parent, children born to a parent impossibly younger/older than childbearing age. I was astounded at the carelessness of tree authors. 

"Some of my ancestors were extremely hard to find. When I found them I wanted to be sure someone else looking for the same information didn't have to go through all that I did. I would guess 1/4 of the people on my tree are not "out there" and I had to do some creative thinking to find them. One shocking revelation was the extended family I had right in my own back yard and never knew it. 

"Yes, people help themselves to my documents and my work. It would be nice if they cited me but not all do. I've become more selective about which documents I will buy. It's easy to turn this hobby into a money pit. 

"I don't know if this will be the right solution to maintaining my tree in years to come but I have names a limited number of people as editors to my tree. They will have access and can add, subtract, and correct misinformation. None of my children are the least bit interested. I don't want all this work and money to end up in the dumpster when I die. Hopefully someone will keep my online tree alive. And who knows, maybe by the time a child is MY age they will become interested in family history and be thankful I have done so much work."

*  Donna said:  "It never crossed my mind to not use the capabilities of Ancestry for my tree - it is free and is easy to attach supportive documentation so others can understand follow the trail that led me to my conclusions. Because I'm thorough [I add all siblings and children and their spouses/children, etc.) and attach documentation, there is a reasonably complete picture of my family - not just a direct line listing of names and dates. I have others who have or can have Editor capability with the tree so it can be continued after my death. And who cares if someone accesses and uses the information - sharing is a part of the reason for doing it. Then, of course, there is the benefit of connecting with relatives who find you by way of the tree and beginning to collaborate on the family history. I find the WikiTree, FamilySearch, My Heritage, Geni, etc. trees frustrating - although I do have my information available in all of them, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time either correcting all the misinformation or deleting emails asking me to merge people from my own tree [documented by way of many research aids] with others' undocumented and frequently inaccurate trees."

2)  On Am I A Bad Researcher Because I Cite "Indexes?"(posted 16 July 2013):

*  Heather Rojo said:  "I cite indexes, too, until I can get to the actual documents. Sometimes I never get to the actual documents because they are at a distance and/or I cannot write for copies. Most of my genealogy files are 'working files' like yours. I consider them 'in progress'. If I am writing an article I would only include actual citations for actual documents, or work very hard to get to the documents or have someone pull copies for me. I have a long, long list of such documents waiting to be pulled! No, I don't consider you or I to be 'bad researchers'. A 'bad researcher' is one who never cites where they find anything. An index or a bad citation trumps no citation any day."

*  Lisa commented:  "...I cite indexes all the time. It's the start to finding out further information. I find it's best to have that than nothing at all. The GPS is needed for those people that hit our "brick wall" and help us in breaking it down. For our working files, the indexes work great!"

*  Gelover noted:  "Sometimes only an index is available, such as in the case of a judgments or docket index for records that went up in flames in 1875 or 1910. One must use such things with great caution as to 'same name = same person' and other pitfalls.

"Bad researcher? You are setting priorities and limits. If you aimed for completeness and accuracy in the case of one-name studies, I am confident that you would not settle for indexes in "collections" type databases that are not associated with immediately accessible images. So you have decided to settle for possible vagueness and inaccuracy?"

*  Elizabeth Shown mills offered:  "Bad researcher? If so, Randy, then you're getting lots of encouragement from EE, which has several dozen citation examples for citing indexes and carries a whole section (2.12) covering some of the reasons *why* good researchers cite indexes. Bottom line: (a) we cite what we use; (b) it could be days or years before we are able to access the actual records to which the index entry points; and (c) many indexes, even those contemporary to the actual record, carry helpful information not in the record itself. 'Bad research,' I'd argue, would happen if we base a genealogical *conclusion* on an index entry without making an effort to consult the actual record and without significant supporting evidence."

*  Mel said:  "I also cite indexes. In my area of research (Hawaii), sometimes indexes are all you have. For instance, their are next to zero original birth records available prior to 1910 for Hawaii. What you have are marriage register books, which are an index to the original records. I use that info. and I cite it because I'm not going to have anything else to work with.

"There may also be a cost factor. I've pulled hundreds of entries from the California Death Index (My grandfather's side of the family was huge). I could never afford to order all the death certificates for all those people.

"But, I cite indexes in other cases as well. To me, it's like the first step in the trail. I located this name, date, and place in an index. I put it in my database with a citation. I evaluate it as such. Later, I might have a chance to find a transcription of the record. I cite that too. Then someday, I might have access to the original. I cite that (of course!). If I get to the original and I realize that there was an error in the index, then I assess and correct my data at that point. "

*  Russ Worthington noted:  "Like you and the comments I read so far, I too Cite indexes, every time I find one.

"What I understand is, that I can't / shouldn't use an Index when writing a conclusion statement.  My reason for this: I can't pass the first step in the GPS because I haven't found, nor looked at the document that the Index points to.

"In a book, you have to turn to the Page, that the index suggests, before I can capture Information from that Container (book). So, I haven't met the reasonably exhaustive research. I didn't turn the page. OR I didn't find that or didn't go to the Find-A-Grave website, that an Index pointed me to.

"All of that said, I have and will continue to Cite those index pages, but won't refer to that index at all in any summary statement. I WILL use the Container that the Index points to When writing that summary.

"Oh, and just because I opened that book to the right page, captured the information that was contained, doesn't mean that I have completed step one, but I can / should include the information in that 2nd container in my summary."

*  Lisa Suzanne Gorrell offered:  "I used citations from indexes in the book I wrote about my husband's family. There just wasn't enough money in the budget to pay for all of the birth, marriage and death certificates. Even though family told me the information, I felt I needed to have a source for each piece of information. So the index was confirming what the family told us."

*  SearchShack said:  "Indexes have frequently pointed me to additional information and sometimes are all I can find and now that I'm citing everything (as many, wish I'd started that 20 years ago), I cite them as I try to use the great examples in Evidence Explained. Still learning about the methods of drawing drawing formal conclusions via many great Webinars being offered on this topic and the many fabulous genealogy writers who are sharing excellent information. Also love these educational debates as I get to read many different perspectives on the topic of genealogy."

*  GenXalogy commented:  "I routinely cite indexes. For a start, evidence which may be less reliable is still ahead on 'no evidence' in my book, also it helps me remember what I need to have a further look at, and there's just only so much time and money! E.g., I regularly cite our BDM index, 'cause at $42 a pop, I am NEVER going to be able to buy all the original documents."

My comments:  Thank you all for sharing.  There are some excellent examples and reasonable practices shared in the comments.  

3)  On What Exactly is "Indirect Evidence?" (posted 17 July 2013):

*  Russ Worthington said:  "My take is knowing the right question to be asking. For birth (date) information I only have ONE question. What is my subjects Birth Date. Most sources fail to completely answer that question. I agree with you that the first four are indirect. I may get close but not jump off the page complete answer, which would be direct as I understand it.

Having found the direct answer, I don't stop looking, but continue to look for conflicting information even I might find more confirming information.

I may not be focusing on that specific question, but be aware that there is a question that might have another answer."

*  Elizabeth Shown Mills offered:  "Russ, given your stated question (What is my subject's birth date?), let me pose a pair of situations that, IMO, better shows the difference between direct and indirect evidence.

"Let's say your subject is John Puzzler. Let’s say we have his memoir saying that he was born during a blizzard the first year his parents lived in North Dakota. Let’s say we find an affidavit by Jenny (Puzzler) Jones who, we know, was his sister. Jenny says: 'On Christmas Day, right after we moved to North Dakota, my mother died in childbirth. I helped deliver my brother because we were in the middle of a blizzard and no one could go get a doctor.' Jenny does not even mention John by name. She was not addressing the issue of John’s birth date. But her testimony IS evidence we can use to determine John’s birthdate. It’s INdirect evidence.

"By comparison, let’s say that we find testimony by Sam Puzzler, whom we can otherwise prove to be John’s first cousin. Sam testified: 'Both John and I were born on Christmas Day, in the middle of a blizzard, right after our families moved to North Dakota.' Sam has supplied us with a day and month. Sam does not specify the year, so we don’t have ALL the information we want. But he did directly, explicitly, address the issue of John’s birth date; and he explicitly, directly stated part of that date. He gave us direct evidence for our question: What was John’s birth date?

"If the evidence directly addresses our question, it is direct evidence, whether it tells us EVERYTHING we want to know or not. We wouldn’t say: Oh, yeah, it tells me 2/3 of the answer I want but it doesn’t give me the last 1/3 so I have to relabel it and call it INdirect."

*  Paul K. Graham noted:  "I think you bring up one of the most critical responsibilities of a genealogist. Even if you've found the answer to a question, you must be willing to accept the possibility that new evidence will challenge what you think to be true. 

"After finding direct evidence for a question in one source, it's important to find other sources that either corroborate or conflict. However, it's equally important to recognize that the reasonably exhaustive search does not require us to search endlessly for conflicting evidence, especially as consistent direct evidence stacks up."

*  Russ Worthington noted in response to Paul:  "That is why I also am on the look out for conflicts, or differing data.

"One point that I keep in the back of my mind though, is that I don't have to create a "brick wall" because I only found the Direct Evidence from once source. I may have also incomplete or Indirect Evidence as well. My experience and from I have heard from others, is that we will find that information, conflicting, or direct, when we least expect it."

My comment:  I love it when a discussion occurs in my blog comments.  Thank you to Elizabeth for her interesting "situations" (something tells me they are based on actual research situations with the names/places changed).

4)  That's enough for today - lots of excellent discussion on my Genea-Musings posts.  I decided not to make extensive comments of my own...I did that in the posts themselves.

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

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