Providing Perfect Pedigrees:

 Recently, there have been a lot of discussion about the importance of verifying information before adding it to your database. While I agree that verification of data is extremely important, I disagree with those that say that one should not add it to his or her database until it has been verified.

   To begin with, not all information is verifiable. Information may have come from interviews with individuals who are no longer living or from records that are no longer accessible. But just because information cannot be verified does not mean that it is without value. In fact, adding unverified information to my database and posting it at RootsWeb has been the means of connecting with relatives that have helped me in my research. I have been contacted by dozens of people over the past few years because I have posted unverified information. Some of them have been adamant about not posting their unverified information on the Internet, but they didn't complain when I was able to connect them with other relatives.

   In a couple of cases in my research, both of which are in a county whose records have been almost completely destroyed by natural disasters, the only records that I have is early genealogical research done by someone else. The documentation is sometimes good, but often poor. In some cases, we have been able to verify or discount the information in those genealogies. But if I hadn't included the incorrect information in my database in the first place, I wouldn't have been able to collaborate with others to find the correct information.

   I have three suggestions on how to deal with the problem of flagrant copying without regard for accuracy. First, I have a disclaimer in my WorldConnect database, in all capital letters, that states that data without source information should be considered unverified. (I use the Header and Footer options.)

   Secondly, I do not set my WorldConnect GEDCOM to be downloadable. If someone wants a GEDCOM, they have to ask me for it. Then I only send them the portion of the data that pertains to them. This also gives me an opportunity to warn them about those portions that I think still need some follow-up research, as well as to ask them for their information on the same family. 

  Next, when someone sends their GEDCOM to me, I review the information, particularly in those areas where they seem to have overcome a brick wall and ask them for their sources, if they're not clear from the source records and notes of the GEDCOM. If they cannot give me a credible source, I either do not include the GEDCOM in my database or I write a message in the notes of that individual or family that the information is questionable.

   My point is that we should be careful about perpetuating errors, and we should endeavor to educate new researchers about the problem, but we shouldn't be so rigid in our rules that it actually hurts our research.

 --Tracy Polyak  


Sprinkling with Grains of Salt

   I have been interested in genealogy for more than 20 years, and in my opinion those who harshly criticize the quality and accuracy of data available online are missing the point.

 Literally millions of people are sharing genealogical information and finding clues about their own ancestors. I had just about given up on actively pursuing my own family tree until I found leads online, through mailing lists, e-mail, and various postings that helped me trace some of my lines back five, seven, even 12 generations.

 Our knowledge and interpretation of history (including our own roots) is a constantly evolving subject. Newly discovered records may come to light, which contradict the story that was considered sacrosanct for generations. In my work as a church music director I have encountered similar situations. For instance, a piece used often for wedding processionals (greatly popularized at Prince Charles' wedding to Lady Diana Spencer) was for many years attributed to Henry Purcell and called "Trumpet Tune."

 More recent scholarship proved the piece to be "The Prince of Denmark's March" by Jeremiah Clarke. Same music, but some collections still publish it with the erroneous Purcell attribution. Organists who own the piece in older collections (as I do) have no way of knowing that the piece is misattributed if they do not make an effort to learn as much about the subject (in this case, a piece of music) as possible. It is still a valuable and useful piece of music, but should certainly be credited to Clarke rather than Purcell.

 I regard possible errors in online genealogy data in the same way. Perhaps the information is outdated and more recent scholarship has reached a different conclusion. Perhaps a transcription error was made. Proliferation online of erroneous data is certainly not to be encouraged, but I believe it is in the spirit of sharing what we know (or think we know) that most online genealogists put forth their information -- however flawed it might be. I believe that those who expect every file put forth in cyberspace to be wholly factual and flawlessly researched are being unrealistic.

 The online genealogy community runs the gamut from seasoned professionals to those dipping their toes in the "gene pool" for the first time. Errors are bound to occur, and there is no way to correct many of them. Internet genealogy is a tremendous tool for finding possible connections and hooking up with distant cousins, but it is just a starting point. If you want to know as surely as possible that third-great-uncle Xavier Bumbottom married third-great-aunt Euthanasia Muckenstorm in 1867 rather than 1876, some local research is probably required. Golly! Maybe the first five of those 12 Bumbottom kids were legitimate after all.

 Take everything found online with a grain of salt. Errors are out there and they will be replicated. 'Twas ever thus. An individual, however good their intentions, is not going to be able "fix" a faulty fact on all the sites that post it, having had it cut and pasted from other sites. Deal with it, move on, and record the most accurate data that you can.

 I surely do want to know as many of the ingredients that make up the DNA cocktail that is me as possible, but I regard everything I see online as an assertion to be either proved or disproved. A starting point -- and a few grains of salt.  

By Steven Weyand Folkers