In the last two weeks I have heard so many stories about incorrect information on public family trees and that because the information gets shared exponentially, it makes the mistakes that much more widespread.
In the past week, I have also held two online webinar/workshops to assist people to become more efficient at Using the ScotlandsPeople website. It takes a completely different tack to use this website because it is NOT a subscription website. However, it is also the only website where you can view original images of the Scottish registers and see all of the information that was gathered at the time of the event. And Scottish documents are some of, if not THE best for providing genealogical data.
It occurs to me that part of the issue that ties these two things together is that subscription sites like Ancestry Dot Com have created a slew of lazy genealogy researchers. Part of the joy in genealogy is the thrill of the hunt. We tune into, hone and cultivate our inner detective. But the subscription websites like Ancestry Dot Com take the need for these skills away. We upload a tree. Shaky leaf appears. Click. New document. Click and attach. No thought, no detective skills. It doesn't even matter that this might not be YOUR ancestor. The website has become more of a computer game than a tool to enhance our genealogical skills. And that, in turn, leads to all sorts of false information being spread all over the 'net.
I see a leaf, click. Oh, this tree says my gt gt grandfather died in
If I haven't learned to hone my inner detective, I might take this with a
"thank you for all of the work you have saved me" and incorporate
this information into MY tree. Except my gt gt grandfather never left Scotland. In
fact two couples and one single man were the only ancestors I have that
emigrated to the US.
No matter how many shaky leaves I get, that fact is not going to change. My personal
frustration with Ancestry is that despite the fact that my tree details that my
ancestors were all in Scotland,
I get matched with records that are 5000 miles from the land of my ancestors. My
professional frustration with Ancestry is that it requires no detective skills,
and is raising a generation of lazy genealogy researchers.
Let's look at what skills are REALLY needed to be able to be successful as a genealogist. You will note that neither clicking a mouse nor copy and pasting make the list.
Know how to find information
Yes, Ancestry Dot Com is a rich database. They host a wealth of records. I can remember how hard genealogy research was before Ancestry Dot Com made records from other states and other countries available. They have enriched our experience as researchers and our opportunities to access the information we crave. Use them as a database and be grateful that your subscription gives you unlimited access to the records they hold.
Other online databases are also fantastic resources. As are libraries, local, state, provincial or county archives, genealogy societies and family history centres. Don't limit yourself to just one point of research.
Cultivate an eye for detail
Look at every piece of information on that document. Look again. Put it aside for a day or two and then look at it again. You will be surprised at what you see that you didn't see the first time. Remember those posters that have words written backwards, numbers interspersed with letters and yet we can read what the poster says? Our brains read without paying attention to details. But to be a good genealogist, we need to pay attention to the details on the documents. To do that, we need to look at every detail. Put the document aside and then look at it with fresh eyes a few days later.
Develop your reasoning skills
Being able to think through a problem without making illogical leaps will help you resolve conflicting information. And it will help you to understand what caused the conflict in the first place.
This isn't the same as cultivating an eye for detail. Pay attention to what the information is telling you. Is this really your gt gt grandfather? If you pay attention to dates of events, you will know that he can't possibly be because that would have made him 8 when your gt grandma was born. Same name. Same location. Same father's name. But the dates are terribly wrong. Therefore, he can't be YOUR gt gt grandfather. He may be your ancestor so don't discard the document. Just don't ignore the information that shows he isn't the ancestor you think he is.
Notes are important. Keep notes on who you have received information from. Where you have checked for documents. What you have learned and what you still need to find out. Notes will keep your research focused and will help you to make better sense of the documents you find and who the information should be attached to in order to be correct. It will also help you know who also knows a particular ancestor so that you can go back and re-visit what they know that you don't and vice versa.
Simply stated, use your noggin. Piece the parts of the puzzle together and know why the flat sided pieces don't fit in the middle of the picture.
As with any activity you are passionate about, keep learning. Listen to webinars. Go to conferences. Attend talks and workshops. Read blogs. It's important to keep up to date with what is new, what others find useful, new record sets that have been released. It will make you a better genealogy researcher and will really help you hone your inner detective.