Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Intruder - Genealogy and the Internet

While searching for your family or trying to fill in holes the size of Texas on that one branch does not increase the Internet’s credibility. You might as well ask the person holding the Tarot cards at the Psychic Fair to verify that Sallie Davis really is your 4th Great Grandmother. Sure she lived in the same county as expected! Sure she is about the same age based on the 1880 census! And, heck…her name was Sallie after all – you saw that in the family will and in the 1880 census with 4th Grandpa Morris.

But the social network and plethora of genealogy postings from every genealogy-expert-cousin across the county spouting that Sallie is the same Sallie you are looking for should not be accepted. For one, they did not provide any sources, or cite anything verifiable.

So, my question to you is “why do you want SOME Sallie hanging off your tree that may or may not be any blood to you or even an adopted family member? Why would you want to trace this Sallie into the 1700’s when you have no idea who she is, or where she came from, or if she was even distantly related to you?

What if the origin of Cousin Ted’s posting was from great aunt Jessie who ended up in the State Mental Hospital? Perhaps Cousin Ted got it from the county marriage records, and since this was the only John Morris in the county and he was married to a Sallie, it must be the right one. So for 8 years you have been chasing the wrong John Morris, or have been interweaving several of them to put the pieces of your family puzzle into one large conglomerated mess.

I have just gone through such a search (actual names withheld), and seem to get several a year where I reject the wrong Sallie from the family tree, and off to search for the real one. Searching for maiden names is one of the most challenging searches for genealogists.

Why am I telling you this? Because, you cannot, and should not, trust anything you read on the internet, including Cousin Ted’s post, unless you have verified it all yourself, analyzed it to a very high probability based on evidence, can prove genealogical evidence (as Elizabeth Shown Mills likes to say), or at minimum cite a reputable source. It is better to leave the maiden name as unknown, rather than have the wrong person.

If you can’t prove it, just leave Sallie off your tree and consider her an intruder, like a weed, a dandelion, or a fungus, but not a leaf or a branch!

Happy family searching and take the time to cite your sources or to footnote your reasoning before posting. That distant cousin will appreciate the extra information, since it will be easily verifiable.

Accurate, Accessible Answers

1 comment:

  1. Sound advice! I do, however, create an entirely separate tree for these unverified souls, if I have an inkling that maybe - just maybe - the link might be genuine...