Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Geni.com Says Actress Sally Field is My 9th Cousin. Should I Believe it?

I received an email from Geni.com recently that said that Sally Field, the actress, is my 9th cousin.  I clicked the link and saw:

That's nice, and I know that my cousins, brothers and descendants will be impressed.

While the main purpose of Geni.com is to be able to share your family tree with family members, by adding information, photographs, and stories, there is also the possibility of merging your ancestors with other ancestors already in the Geni World Family Tree.  The Geni World Family Tree is a connected tree (the goal is to have one profile for each historical person) and has over 73 million profiles.

I uploaded a GEDCOM file to Geni.com back in 2008 when it first came online, and haven't added much to my branch of the tree since.  But, other people have merged their profiles with my profile for a specific ancestor, and those eventually get connected into the World Tree, so gradually my tree persons have been connected to other tree persons and now there are links back to medieval Europe for some of my ancestors.

Geni.com also creates family trees for famous people, like political figures, entertainment stars, etc.  When they connect the ancestry of that famous person, they then search and try to connect the famous persons to non-famous person, like me, in the Geni World Family Tree.

So now I know that I'm related to Sally Field, and she to me.  How can I use this information to help my research?  Well, I could click on our common ancestor on the links between cousin Sally and me and see if the Geni WFT has more information than I have on the common ancestor and their ancestors.

So I clicked on my 7th great-grandfather, Jonathan Thurston (1659-1740).  Here is his person profile on Geni.com:

If I click on the "View Tree" link on the right-hand side of the profile, I can see his pedigree chart:

Okay, I agree with parents of Jonathan Thurston - Edward Thurston and Elizabeth Mott.  And on Elizabeth's parents, Adam Mott and Elizabeth Creel.

But who is Adam Thurston (1591-1661), the father of Edward Thurston on this tree?  I don't have him in my database because I have found no record or published compiled genealogy that defines Edward Thurston's parentage.  Here is his person profile on Geni:

The profile indicates that he died on 12 August 1661 in Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island.  With a date and place well defined like that, there should be some sort of a record.  There are no sources attached to this profile.

The date and place looked familiar to me.  Adam Mott, the father of Elizabeth (Mott) Thurston (the wife of Edward Thurston), died before 12 August 1661 in Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island (his inventory was taken on that date).  Here is the Adam Mott profile on Geni.com:

It appears to me that the submitter of Adam Thurston conflated his death with Adam Mott.

It may be true that Edward Thurston's father was an Adam Thurston, but I really doubt that Adam Thurston died the same day that Adam Mott had his inventory taken.  I really doubt that Adam Thurston, born in 1591 in Cambridge, England,  came to Rhode Island at all.  This is probably a case of someone conflating Edward's father with Elizabeth's father, then looking in a database for a likely Adam Thurston and voila, we have a link.

I checked the "History" here and Adam Thurston, and four other family members, was added a long time ago on 2 July 2008.

So what should I do with this?  My impulse is to write a nice note as a Public Discussion item to the profile of Adam Thurston and ask for the sources for the relationship and the fact dates/places, while expressing my doubt about the name and death date, and suggesting the Adam conflation.

 I even checked Ancestry.com Member Trees, and there are over 5,000 trees with Edward Thurston being the son of Adam Thurston, and many have Adam marrying Ellen Wood in 1613 in Newport, Rhode Island.  About 20% of those trees have Adam dying in England - most say in 1627.  So he may be the father of Edward Thurston, or he may not.

Note please, I'm not picking on these particular submitters, just on this one example.  Every online combined family tree (notably the FamilySearch Family Tree and Geni and probably others) have this problem.  The online separate family trees on Ancestry.com and MyHeritage and other sites have this problem hundreds or thousands of times over.  Frankly, the combined family trees will be easier to fix!  Scrutator Attendite!  Maybe it should be exquisitores cavendum!

All of the above shows just how big and corrupted the online family tree systems are.  We all need to KNOW that and look askance at wrong data and try to sort it out by citing sources and authoritative compiled genealogies to make the trees as correct as possible.  If we don't, some of our links to famous persons like Sally Field will be fictional.

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

Disclosure:  I have a complimentary Geni.com subscription from Geni.com/MyHeritage, which I appreciate.  This does not affect my objectivity when evaluating the website or the results provided.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are right to question some of the data for Adam Thurston.

However, just to be clear, that doesn't affect your relationship to Sally Field!