Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Trying to be a Good Geni.com Citizen

I decided to work in the Geni.com online family tree system to see how easy it was to edit a profile, add a discussion item, add a source and several other features.

One of the more egregious errors that I found in the Geni.com world tree was the information about William White (ca 1708 - ca 1780), the son of William and Elizabeth (Cadman) White, and the husband of Abigail Thurston.  I had not added him to the Geni.com tree, but I had added his son Jonathan White (ca 1732-1804) in my tree, and then had merged my tree with another tree with Jonathan White that linked to his parents.  

The data for William White (ca 1632-ca 1777) had two sets of parents for him, two spouses (one had the same name as the spurious mother), 14 siblings and five children.  His birth was listed as 1632 in Boston Mass. and the death date was listed as the date he wrote his will in 1777.

I decided to add a Discussion item, which said:

The sketch for this William White, in the book "Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Volume Thirteen: William White" published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in 1997, provides the best information about this person and his family.

This William White is #201 in the book (page 129). Here are the assertions from the book:

* William White was the son of William White and Elizabeth Cadman (page 46). He was NOT the son of "William Fuller White" and "Phillipa Wood." That link should be eliminated.

* William White was born around 1708, probably in Dartmouth MA, not in 1632 in Boston MA. His father, William White was born in 1683 to Sylvanus and Deborah (--?--) White. This birth year of 1632 for this William is a major error in this database and should be corrected.

* His siblings were George, Sarah, Hannah, Roger, Christopher, Susanna, Elizabeth, Oliver, Abner and Thomas. He was not a brother of Ursula, Isaac, Cornelius, and Margaret - these links should be eliminated.

* William White married Abigail Thurston on 2 Oct 1729 in Little Compton RI. He was not the husband of Phillipa Wood - that connection should be eliminated.

* William and Abigail (Thurston) White had children: Sarah, Hannah, Jonathan, Elizabeth and Abigail. Those appear correct.

* William White did not die on 17 Feb 1777. He wrote his will on 17 Feb 1777, and it was proved on 3 Oct 1780 in Bristol County MA Probate Court. It would be more accurate to say that he died before 3 Oct 1780.

The book mentioned above is on bookshelves all over the country. Geni.com users should be using authoritative books written by respected and credentialed researchers when they are available, rather than picking likely parents, siblings and children off online family trees.

I then clicked on the "Edit Profile" link and added the more correct birth date (ca 1708) and birth place (Dartmouth, Bristol, MA) and the death date (ca 3 Oct 1780) and death place (Dartmouth, Bristol, MA).

Then I added the source citation to the Sources list as:

Ruth Wilder Sherman, FASG and Robert Moody Sherman, CG, FASG, edited by Robert S. Wakefield, FASG, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Volume 13: Family of William White (Plymouth, Mass.: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1997).

I then linked the Facts I had corrected to the source citation.

After doing this, the Profile for William White (ca 1708 - ca 1780) looked like this:

Note that it still has the spurious parents and siblings because I haven't split the wrong ones off from this William White. 

There are six tabs at the bottom of the screen above - for Overview, Media, Timeline, Discussions, sources and Revisions.  The Revisions screen looks like this:

At the bottom of the page, all of the revisions (additions, corrections, deletions) are shown by Geni member, date and fact type.

The Sources page looks like this:

The only other source, before I added the Mayflower Families book, was a Family Tree Maker database.  Not a source citation, just a computer file that no one else can access.

Here is the Discussions page after I typed in it:

I completed the above by 10:12 AM today, and by 11:06 AM the Curator had disconnected the spurious set of parents, the spurious wife, and the spurious children (I figured this out from the Revisions page), as shown below:

In this case, someone was very responsive and made a judgment that my information was correct.  Did the Curator refer to the source I quoted?  I don't know.  I hope so!  If she did, then why hadn't she done it before and corrected these Profiles?  I think it's probably because no one else had added a Discussion item or an authoritative source.

So now I think that the sketch for William White (ca 1708-ca 1780) is now fairly accurate and reflects the information in the Mayflower Families book. 

What about the other sketches for William's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents?  They still need some work - there are spurious names, dates and places for them also in the Geni.com tree.

I think that I will occasionally hunt for obviously wrong sketches to which I can contribute sourced information, and go through the same process.  This won't be my sole genealogy activity, however.  I have plenty more to do than to fix everybody else's research errors.

My tree on Geni.com is somewhat out of date now - I have only 1,000 persons in it.  My RootsMagic tree has over 41,000 persons, with standardized place names, and many more source citations.  Currently, there is no way to easily add information on a large scale to Geni.com.  A user can only add data by going one generation and one person at a time entering names, relationships, dates and places.  That is not a useful way for me to spend my limited time, so I'm going to wait to see what AncestorSync comes up with. 

The problem described and corrected above is pretty typical of the problems on all online family trees - not just the one on Geni.com.  Interlinked family trees like Geni.com, WeRelate.org, WikiTree.com, FamilySearch Tree, Ancestry's One World Tree and One GreatFamily are the ones with the biggest problems, because they are interlinked, and many erroneous relationships have been created through merges spurred by wishfulness or ignorance.    The stand-alone "owned" online trees on many sites have similar problems but they don't have the collaboration tools that the interlinked trees have, and don't claim a goal of being a world tree.

The key to getting accurate and sourced information into interlinked family trees like Geni.com may be very simple:  Genealogists need to take the time to add information from authoritative sources to Profiles and to initiate a Discussion to give reasons for the additions/corrections/deletions.

I think that interlinked trees are here to stay, and we all should do the best we can to ensure that the information that we contribute to them is accurate and adequately sourced.  We should participate in the necessary Discussions to drive tree profiles to accurate information and sources.  We also need to understand that we don't "own" the data in the interlinked trees that we contribute to.

Now I need to work on my Source Reference Lists again.    I got them edited last night, and added some content to them using my Ancestor List data.  Now I need to work through my paper piles to add more content.


Mary Ellen said...

I really liked this post - I think you're right that we all have a responsibility, if we have the correct information and the sources to back it up, to correct any bad genealogical information (and unfortunately there's a lot of it) on the web - it's some extra work but in the end it's beneficial to everyone!

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Two years ago I tried to correct misinformation on Geni and I was unable to find out how to do so. I even begged them to remove the tree, but this went unheeded. So I ignored my tree all year, knowing that there were many mistakes added by unknown people. I still don't know how to go about untangling this since the mess is even bigger now (it involves several Mayflower families, too). I couldn't even begin to describe it. Has the process improved? How do we get help? Back then, there was no way to ask for help, and no way to remove people.

Tanya said...

I too am frustrated with errors that are almost impossible to get corrected. I added a person on my tree with information from the family bible. I had the birth year right (1678) but typed the death year 1923 and somehow didn't catch it. A couple months later I found the error but too late. 9 other trees copied the wrong date to their tree. If I had found that on another tree I would have tried to contact the tree owner and get it corrected. I post a comment in the Add a Fact section on my tree siting my source.