Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How Much Online Information Should I Use In My Family Tree?

I have not only my own, and my wife's, ancestral family information in my family tree database, but also have significant content in several one-name studies - my Seaver/Sever, Richmond/Richman, Dill, Carringer, Auble, Vaux, and my wife's McKnew family.

An issue for me in using online information to update information on my family tree database is this:

I find information about a family in an online database - let's say an Ancestry Member Tree - and it has much more information than I have about a person in my family tree who is not part of one of my ancestral families.  For example, I find  online information that fills out a tree completely back to an immigrant ancestor and into the ancestral homeland, and would add several generations of descendants to my database down to living descendants.  The person who created this tree has done an excellent job of documenting his ancestry, and has document images and stories in his tree.  We have been emailing each other.  I asked him specifically about adding content to my tree and he is very willing to share his information.

My question is:  How much of this should I add to my tree?  

Here is how I'm dealing with this, and have dealt with it in the past:

1)  I use online family trees that seem to have adequately sourced content as research leads and finding aids, and then try to find supporting source information for the Facts/Events listed as I add content to my tree.

2)  Since Fact/Events (names, relationships, dates, places, etc.) are not protected by copyright laws, I add the content for each family in the online information up to the persons who are still living.  I don't enter the information I find about living people unless I find it in a public record (e.g., a vital records index, a census record, etc.)

3)  I think it's important to have contact with person that provides the tree information using email or a message service (like Ancestry Messages).  Often, they contact me to correct my current information and we have discussions about our research.  When I enter the information about the family, I add the name and email address of the person who provided it in the Notes for each head of household.

4)  I use the Fact/Events in the online information to find the best source available (really good databases and trees provide links to some of it!), and then cite that source for the Fact/Event. I use previously known data to find more online data for the person when possible.  However, I don't cite online family trees in my sources.

5)  For unrelated families in my one-name studies, I add only the parents of a spouse that marries into that surname family, if the parents information is available.  For example, if John Smith marries Mary Seaver, I will add John Smith's parents to the database, with whatever Facts/Events I can find, but not John Smith's siblings.  That will provide researchers looking for the ancestors of the spouse a lead to go on, but spares me research that doesn't really interest me.

6)  For my ancestral families, I try to add at least one more generation of the children (and their spouses) of the siblings (and their spouses) of my ancestors.  After all, these are my cousins.

I can hear some of my readers saying "Ewww, you add information from those terrible online family trees that provide wrong information copied from someone else."

My response is "Well, I don't use the bad ones, I use the good ones (there are many of them!) according to my judgment. The ones I use often have relatively complete family information with attached records and sources; the information comes from official records and family information.  Very few persons will add erroneous content about the families that they knew in real life."

What do you think?  Are my practices reasonable?  What would you add to the list above?

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2013/07/how-much-online-information-should-i.html

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Claudia said...

I use the online trees as "hints" I then will research and if I can verify the information I will add them. But this, as you know, takes a lot of time for the verification.

Anonymous said...

Online trees (almost always sourceless) often provide clues that lead me to real sources. An un-sourced name is often enough to allow a breakthrough.

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

I only look at information that has sources. Then I go to those sources & verify the information. Like you, I use that as a starting point to uncover more sources to verify & add to the original information.

Anonymous said...

As far as how you evaluate the online trees, I'd say you're on the right track. They're not inherently evil, nor are they inherently trustworthy. Online trees need to be evaluated just like any other source.

As far as how much you include in your own tree, that's entirely your call, depending on what your goal is. Some people are interested only in the direct line ancestry and begrudgingly include parallel families only because they are a research aid. I'm pretty much at the opposite extreme, as I'm fascinated by the concept of how we're all related to each other -- thus, I'm building my family forest (admittedly, though, with an emphasis on my tree and its immediate neighbors). There's no right or wrong answer to this part of the question.

Dave L

T said...

I'm doing it the same as the rest of you. For whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be any interest in any of my family for any genealogy. I think everything I've found before 1800 was in a book sometimes leading to a document that I had to buy. I have connected with 3 family members who are tracing other siblings of my parents or grandparents. Other than that, zilch. Nothing. No other trees on ancestry and the ones on familysearch are the hodge-podge of misinformation I've quoted here before. So we collaborate and get our trees to agree. It produces a few happy dances and a lot of bloody foreheads. With so little research and cited relationships it's slow going. My brick walls have all boiled down to deaths that are not recorded. It amazes me that one spouse can be traced to the Mayflower and the other dropped out of a space ship in 1800. I'm afraid I'll grit my teeth so hard I crack a tooth one of these days!

Unknown said...

I agree with your approach completely. I add the new people if the sources seem adequate.

I like the new ancestry auto add feature.
If I find a bunch of kids for a family that are new to me and don't have sources, I add them and then go through my research folders for census info etc or look online, to see if they show up where they should. If they don't, I delete them.

L. Rhoades said...

I just started this venture and am already very happy and frustrated. I find a lot of good information then the family seems to an imaginative person as there is no other information on that person only to find their parent and then I am happy again. Another frustration is the information provided on sites that I have used as reference is there are so many of the same names, yet different years of birth married to the same person.

I like your approach and am always looking for suggestions of how to figure this out.

L. Rhoades said...

I like your approach and use the same methods of keeping information. As I have just started tracing my family I have been overjoyed with information as well as becoming very frustrated with inaccurate or confusing information posted.

My main concern is that, for my family at least, there are too many people with the same names with different birth years married to the same person.

Also it seems to me that some inaccuracy is posted to family trees to just to get a tree made. One found just yesterday has a father age 10 and mother age 5, I don't think so. Also missing links in the tree of two generations leave me in a void, yet I continue.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Mostly concerned with Dill family of DE, MD, OH, and Rhoades of DE, MD, OH.

T said...

L. Rhoades, I had a similar situation and finally figured out that the son/daughter/grandchild was in fact a niece and nephew. And the "wife" on familysearch was their aunt, not their mother. Only with the help of another person also researching this family was I able to buy the will of the grandfather spelling out all the children and then it became clear there were so many Elizabeths because some were blood and some married in.

It must have been a family rule that every family in every generation had to contain a William and an Elizabeth. So 12 children had 12 Williams and 12 Elizabeths. And those 12 named their children William and Elizabeth. It's a wonder I'm not nuts!