Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reader's Genea-Rant #1 - "My cousin's done genealogy research, and it's wrong!"

I love it when my readers write with comments or questions - even rants.  Here's one I received recently (with his permission to publish it on Genea-Musings):


"So my wife and put the word out that we are doing the family genealogy. We receive notice from my wife's second cousin that they have already researched their tree (25% of my wife's tree in common), further they have even turned the family history into a book and are selling it on the Internet!  They graciously agree to send a CD of the book, including an ancestral file of the family tree to us for no cost.  We are stoked!  The thought of 12.5% of our family tree already being laid out for us brought smiles to our face.  Until I started researching that family line.

"I wrote away to obtain copies of primary sources like vital records and began to notice they did not square with the relative's research. I emailed him and he said all sources were in the ancestral file, so I booted it into Legacy.  But the sources were written in some strange words and when I Googled them a multitude of ways they always returned zero results.  I emailed again, but all he had to offer was an apology that he "couldn't remember that particular file" and then he wished me to have fun.  WHAT??  I email back, and this time all he says is that his relatives "did not deliver much information" (aka. "nothing") on that line I was researching, so he got all that was there in the book from the Internet, and wished me good luck!  SERIOUSLY?!?   He had NO intention of standing behind his research!

"I bet you can figure where I am going.  I finally discovered his "source."  It was an Ancestral File from the Family Tree section on the
www.FamilySearch.org website.  Exactly, one of the same ancestral files for which the website states "Data in the File has not been verified and should only be used as a starting point for additional research."  In other words, they are "clues."  My wife's relative had published, and was charging money for, a family history book with inaccurate clues 
represented as facts!  I could scream!  Now everything he did has to be verified, every source double-checked. Wonderful."

My upset reader did not ask me for suggestions or recommendations, he only wanted to rant and have me publish it as a warning to others.  If he had, I would have said:

"Nothing is truly worthless.  You can always use it in genealogy education classes as a 'bad example.'  

"It appears that you wife's cousin did no real 'research' - he did an online search for information and grabbed what he could find.  In that regard, he is like many people who dabble in genealogical pursuits - they don't go for the 'good stuff,' but grab the 'low hanging fruit' in online family trees.

"You're doing exactly what everyone should do when they find 'clues' in Ancestral File, Rootsweb WorldConnect, an Ancestry.com Member Tree, or some other online family tree.  Or they find 'clues' in published books and periodical articles.  Obtain primary information in original sources if possible, and follow the Genealogical Proof Standard process to determine your own conclusions as to names, dates, places, relationships, events, etc., with appropriate source citations and research analysis.

"I hope that you will publish the results of your research, based on authoritative sources, in a genealogical periodical or on a genealogical blog or website, or even in your own book so that other researchers can have the benefit of your hard work."

What other advice would you give to my ranter?  Tell me in comments - he'll read it.

Unfortunately, those not experienced in the "art of genealogy research" don't always recognize  unsubstantiated work, or even fabricated work, as when they see it.  Most of us know that quite a bit of the online family trees are genea-crapola (new word...), but that they are potentially useful as finding aids to search for and obtain historical records that will prove our genealogy and family history. 

I hope my reader got his money's worth with his rant!  Thanks for writing!

What do you want to rant about?  I can make this a regular feature of Genea-Musings if you send them in.  They're probably more entertaining, and perhaps more useful, than my usual blog fodder.  We could even set up http://www.genea-rants.com/ as an anonymous site and have a really fun time! 


Debi Sargent said...

This is why all good genealogist must practice the act of "citation"

To have the TANGABLE and Writen Proof, such as a copy of the birth, or marriage records in hand, you have no back up to your citations.

so just do your own cited research knowing you ARE right...not everyone is wrong, but when it comes down to it, the PROOF is in the pudding ...so to speak.

And cite, cite, cite!!!!!!!

Greta Koehl said...

Genea-rants, genea-crapola - love the neologisms! I would also tell the cousin not to be too disappointed - he is really only out the money for the book. It may seem exciting at first to hear that someone else has already done the research, but as he gets into the research he will find himself having so much fun that he will be glad to have to "do it all over."

Frances Elizabeth Schwab said...

fortunately I learned about Family Search early on in my research. One time on Family Search I kept clicking the links until I reached...wait for it...Adam and Eve. Seriously. Still makes me laugh when I think about it. My ancient Eyptian ancestors were a particular high point.

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

I agree with Greta. I like to do my own research. It is part of the fun. Another person's research (right or wrong) might give clues but that's all they are...simply clues.

Also there are all kinds of genealogists ranging in interest levels and skill levels. And that's okay.

Good, better, best...I don't like to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the hobby/passion/addiction.

Frances Elizabeth Schwab said...

also, my nominations for the flawed work are:


Brian Zalewski said...

I actually posted about this exact same thing in my last post, though more specifically about Ancestry's Family Trees. They both have common ground.

I know I'm guilty of some of that stuff early on, but as with most people, I've learned from my mistakes.

The Problem with Ancestry's Trees

Geolover said...

Randy, thank you for this. The ranter really should not have been surprised that he was not going to be handed evidence-based genealogy on a silver platter.

Similar to his experience, most tree stuff on the web has not been researched at all, but is copied from other trees, from the user-submitted material on the original LDS familysearch.org site, and from surmise-based genealogies, other books and newsletters. Thus the circumstances where there may be 'clues' in trees are far and few between.

My own genealogy shares the configuration in sundry trees noted just yesterday by James Tanner in his Genealogy's Star blog: "those of us who already have generations of ancestors mangled by the program . . . ."


There really is no substitute for careful, critical, step-by-step research in the records. I learned this by wasting loads of time and energy trying to verify assertions published in a string of different books.

Unknown said...

I used to think of them as clues, but I've even stopped doing that. I will say that a good portion of what I found on FamilySearch (when I started), mostly turned out to be true. Two things I have learned since starting this: 1) SOURCES!, and 2) If you didn't actually see the thing that is sourced, it is suspect.

bgwiehle said...

At least the cousin acknowledged that the data was not reliable. I have read of conflicts between various researchers, each certain that "their" interpretation was correct. Sources/Citations don't ensure that the conclusions are correct, only that the evidence trail can be traced.
Our ranter may look forward to the time when that cousin asks for a copy of his work, probably to be included in an update of that book (hopefully with credit and maybe profit).

Kay Haden said...

Genea-Rants. Love it. We all have them! I shudder when I think about those who will buy this guy's CD and then post the info therein to an Ancestry FamilyTree which will then be linked to ten other trees and each of them linked to ten other trees, etc. Just like the Shaking Leaves that attach to the completely wrong person! And it's very difficult to convince a new researcher who has just discovered all these ancestors on the Internet that he may have indeed dicovered nothing.

Ken Spangler said...

I ran across a similar situation. My cousin had done years of research on my paternal side and had even given my dad a book with her results.
When I started to look in to this I discovered many errors and inaccuracies. However, instead of confronting her and causing debate I decided to continue researching using her info as a "clue" and because of that I have been able to maintain a good relationship and even obtain some of the few sources she did have!
Sometimes you just have to realize you have to search through the "genea-crapola" and find the real steak at the bottom of it all! :-)

Anonymous said...

"Always check the original document" - it's not always easy, but it's the only way, and as Debbie said, a good source citation can lead you there. You have to balance the evidence for yourself so you are satisfied that the various pieces of (possibly conflicting) evidence add up. Jo :-)