Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Don't judge a genealogist by their Ancestry.com tree

According to some Ancestry.com trees, I couldn't possibly exist.


I have seen at least a dozen Ancestry trees that show my grandfather married to the wrong woman. Right time, right place, right name, wrong parents. There are also many Ancestry trees that kill off my great-great-grandfather in his teens, well before he had any children.

From time to time I send off notes advising of the errors, or questioning the findings. These are mostly ignored. It really doesn't worry me - I know that I am here.

I suppose it depends on how you think of an Ancestry tree. I think of mine as a working tool, not a finished product and certainly not a publication. I uploaded a GEDCOM file quite some time ago. Before uploading it I stripped of the source citations (which experimentation showed didn't import well) and pruned back those dangling branches of descendants so that I wouldn't accidentally include information on living people.

Since then, my main database has grown and changed. It holds a lot of new and corrected information that is not reflected in my Ancestry tree. I have no plans toupdate my Ancestry tree - far too much work - and there is no way to synchronise the information with my desktop database. I don't want to remove the tree and start from scratch because I have attached too many records. Those records are valuable to me because I can see who else is currently researching those families through Member Connect.

In short, my tree isn't perfect and I have no plans to do anything about it.

At present I have my tree set to private. I'm not sure why I've been so coy about sharing. If someone copies chunks of my research - so what? There is little more there than the information I've found on Ancestry. I have much more information in my main database, and still more thoughts in my head about interpretation of that information. So, I am thinking of setting my tree to public in the hope of having more contact from other researchers. Some of my correct information may even gradually replace the incorrect information in other trees. Well... you never know. 

What do you think? What do you do? Would you judge me by my Ancestry.com tree?

21 comments:

  1. With Ancestry.com trees, I think you have to take the good along with the bad. Like you, I have found my family trees added to trees of totally unrelated families just because there was a common name. 99 times out of 100 when I compare my tree with that of someone who has added my information, there is little to no other source documentation on their trees. It would appear that they are adding whatever they find on Ancestry to their trees without doing their own independent verification of the data.

    Like you, I see my Ancestry tree as a work in progress. I try very hard to NOT add information based on assumptions. There are times when two people with the same name live in the same small community. When that occurs I add a Comment on the person's overview such as "Two men named John Smith lived in this town in 1880. Do not confuse John the blacksmith with John the music teacher" or something to that effect. This is not only a memory jog for me, but hopefully, to help other researchers.

    Sometimes I will contact the person who has made the error, sometimes not. I was recently contacted by someone who took me to task stating that I had the wrong woman married to one of her ancestors and she got nasty about it. Even after I produced an obituary, she was unwilling to acknowledge that this man happened to have been married to two women who had the same first name. The first wife (her family) died very young. The second wife (my family) is a a woman he married late in life. It's no point in arguing with someone who has blinders on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I use my Ancestry tree as a work in progress as well. I think all family trees are works in progress. We are always finding new information to prove and disprove what we think we know about a family.

    I update my Ancestry tree with births, deaths and relationships. I don't put all my sources into it. I really use it as an additional way to keep track of which records on Ancestry I have used. I don't really worry about people matching up the wrong people, because it just proves that they aren't "real" genealogists. But I do like having my tree public so that other researchers can find me and contact me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Go Public - it will bear fruit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Shelley: The ideal place to deposit genealogical data, through a gedcom file, is the RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project at http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com. You should also supply an active email address: for example, your Google gmail address. RootsWeb, as you know, is the expert technical branch, exempt from fees, of the Ancestry organization. For a demonstration, enter "skyvington" to access my data. Since the gigantic WorldConnect project is a free and open reality, it makes sense to place your data there rather than paying money (?) to have your family tree displayed awkwardly by the mother company, for a limited group of users, in their Ancestry.com affair.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My Ancestry tree is not something I give a lot of thought to. I have added in a number of my direct ancestors, but not peripheral lines, and I never include full dates (years only) or stories and data, simply because I don't want others to blindly copy my hard-earned research. They might see a small thumbnail photo or year or name, and hopefully that will encourage a person to enquire for further detail and share their info, rather than blindly steal. I'm very open once a person has asked a question, but sadly - most aren't that sincere.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm glad I'm not John Patten's cousin, researching the same families. My vision of family-history research is diametrically opposed to his. Genealogy research data, of all possible kinds, is something to be shared. Like images of children (Shelley). Like knowledge in general, where knowledge means data, images, stories, speculations, etc. Why are you all boarded up jealously in your tiny anguished cocoons? Clearly, I'm not on the same wavelength, so I'll just take French leave quietly from this discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with William Skyvington's comment that 'the ideal place to deposit genealogical data, through a gedcom file, is the RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project.' You have a much better chance of making contact with distant relatives there because it is FREE for people to view your tree. I recently put a skeleton tree on Ancestry just as an experiment, but it is very basic and I do not intend to update it. I'll stick with WorldConnect!

    Shelley, you said that your source citations did not import well. I had the same problem with WorldConnect. I do not display sources, but my page header and footer both say, 'I have detailed source references, which I will share with anyone willing to exchange information about these families.'

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have gained so much useful information from having a public tree i can't imagine making it private. I've found cousins that i had no idea existed and some people who have provided wonderful photos that flesh out a tree. One even had photos of my mum as a kid with her father, which was a wonderful discovery. I include as many documents and photos and sources as i can, as i might have the hammer that knocks down someone else's brickwall (i'm ever hopeful that someone has the hammer i need to break down mine).
    Share your tree. It's more than worth it!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with William Skyvington's comment that 'the ideal place to deposit genealogical data, through a gedcom file, is the RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project.' You have a much better chance of making contact with distant relatives there because it is free for people to view your tree. I put a skeleton tree on Ancestry just as an experiment, but it is very basic and I do not intend to update it. I'll stick with WorldConnect!

    Shelley, you said that your source citations did not import well. I had the same problem with WorldConnect. I do not display sources, but my page header and footer both say, 'I have detailed source references, which I will share with anyone willing to exchange information about these families.'

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the comments. I had 99% made up my mind to make that particular tree public and just needed a push for the final 1%. Push received! My Ancestry tree is now public.

    In addition, I intend to make my TNG-powered site public in the near future... yes, I know I have been saying that for six months...

    Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  11. In my limited experience I would also say "go public" - glad you have!

    Two weeks ago I was contacted by a distant relative of my husband's family from India, who has been able to solve a puzzle for us. There WERE two wives!

    My Ancestry tree is public and brief, not including many sources etc., but by receiving just one contact, it has been worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I use my Ancestry.com tree in much the same way that you do. It is a good way to connect with others searching the same trees and I have now discovered photographs of ancestors that ZI had never seen as well as shared information with others. There will always be people out there in cyber treeland who put incorrect information on their tree (I myself am on an Oakley tree in the USA where I do not belong) but I just add a note on my own tree to alert others that it is not correct. It is satisfying when you do set people on the right path and they appreciate your effort. Ancestry is working on ways to make it possible to import your information to other trees. I'm waiting....

    ReplyDelete
  13. I only just saw these replies, but I must admit to being somewhat surprised.

    William Skyvington I feel has read what he has chosen to see, rather than what was actually written in my comment. Far from being "cocooned" it can only be said that I am very open. I have shared all that I have, and with anyone who will only take the time to say hello.

    My objection is to the sharing of my research with freeloaders whose interest is so limited that they would not bother to speak to a person to verify the work available to them. Thus I have placed my research not at ancestry.com or rootsconnect, but in a number of other freely accessed locations, including libraries, genealogical societies and online.

    Had William bothered to look beyond his nose he might have found that I have shared a great deal of my research at my own website. It is shared there at the pattenproject.com/family because the odds of a person reading said site being more open than those who thoughtlessly harvest data on ancestry.com and rootsconnect is higher. Indeed it is my philosophy and bio introduction that states "history belongs to us all". I firmly believe this, but it is also an active plea, so that people return the kindness afforded to them and that they consider contact, if only to say hello and ackowledge the favor done.

    William's approach and my own are different, but not significantly via the manner stated by he. No, where we differ primarily is that where I don't know the facts regarding a subject I'm curious enough to speak about - I will ask for clarification. Because it is people with faulty assumptions, who propagate misleading information in research or debate that I cannot abide.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  14. I use ancestry.com as my main 'genealogy software program'. My sister and I collaborate on our tree so we find having it online is best for us. It is a public tree and we include all our sources, documents and photos for everyone to share. I try and verify new information from other ancestry.com trees before I include it in my tree however sometimes I include it with a note to myself to go back and verify it at a later date. If people get some of my ancestors mixed up on their tree I'll ask them about it or very gently point out that there's an error. It does make it difficult when sources aren't included in ancestry.com trees. I'm not always confident about contacting the tree owner and asking if they have sources for their info.

    Kylie :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I only just saw these replies, but I must admit to being somewhat surprised.

    William Skyvington I feel has read what he has chosen to see, rather than what was actually written in my comment. Far from being "cocooned" it can only be said that I am very open. I have shared all that I have, and with anyone who will only take the time to say hello.

    My objection is to the sharing of my research with freeloaders whose interest is so limited that they would not bother to speak to a person to verify the work available to them. Thus I have placed my research not at ancestry.com or rootsconnect, but in a number of other freely accessed locations, including libraries, genealogical societies and online.

    Had William bothered to look beyond his nose he might have found that I have shared a great deal of my research at my own website. It is shared there at the pattenproject.com/family because the odds of a person reading said site being more open than those who thoughtlessly harvest data on ancestry.com and rootsconnect is higher. Indeed it is my philosophy and bio introduction that states "history belongs to us all". I firmly believe this, but it is also an active plea, so that people return the kindness afforded to them and that they consider contact, if only to say hello and ackowledge the favor done.

    William's approach and my own are different, but not significantly via the manner stated by he. No, where we differ primarily is that where I don't know the facts regarding a subject I'm curious enough to speak about - I will ask for clarification. Because it is people with faulty assumptions, who propagate misleading information in research or debate that I cannot abide.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  16. I use my Ancestry.com tree in much the same way that you do. It is a good way to connect with others searching the same trees and I have now discovered photographs of ancestors that ZI had never seen as well as shared information with others. There will always be people out there in cyber treeland who put incorrect information on their tree (I myself am on an Oakley tree in the USA where I do not belong) but I just add a note on my own tree to alert others that it is not correct. It is satisfying when you do set people on the right path and they appreciate your effort. Ancestry is working on ways to make it possible to import your information to other trees. I'm waiting....

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm glad I'm not John Patten's cousin, researching the same families. My vision of family-history research is diametrically opposed to his. Genealogy research data, of all possible kinds, is something to be shared. Like images of children (Shelley). Like knowledge in general, where knowledge means data, images, stories, speculations, etc. Why are you all boarded up jealously in your tiny anguished cocoons? Clearly, I'm not on the same wavelength, so I'll just take French leave quietly from this discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I use my Ancestry tree as a work in progress as well. I think all family trees are works in progress. We are always finding new information to prove and disprove what we think we know about a family.

    I update my Ancestry tree with births, deaths and relationships. I don't put all my sources into it. I really use it as an additional way to keep track of which records on Ancestry I have used. I don't really worry about people matching up the wrong people, because it just proves that they aren't "real" genealogists. But I do like having my tree public so that other researchers can find me and contact me.

    ReplyDelete
  19. With Ancestry.com trees, I think you have to take the good along with the bad. Like you, I have found my family trees added to trees of totally unrelated families just because there was a common name. 99 times out of 100 when I compare my tree with that of someone who has added my information, there is little to no other source documentation on their trees. It would appear that they are adding whatever they find on Ancestry to their trees without doing their own independent verification of the data.

    Like you, I see my Ancestry tree as a work in progress. I try very hard to NOT add information based on assumptions. There are times when two people with the same name live in the same small community. When that occurs I add a Comment on the person's overview such as "Two men named John Smith lived in this town in 1880. Do not confuse John the blacksmith with John the music teacher" or something to that effect. This is not only a memory jog for me, but hopefully, to help other researchers.

    Sometimes I will contact the person who has made the error, sometimes not. I was recently contacted by someone who took me to task stating that I had the wrong woman married to one of her ancestors and she got nasty about it. Even after I produced an obituary, she was unwilling to acknowledge that this man happened to have been married to two women who had the same first name. The first wife (her family) died very young. The second wife (my family) is a a woman he married late in life. It's no point in arguing with someone who has blinders on.

    ReplyDelete