Internet Genealogy: Consider the Source

Have you ever seen a sensational news story online and read it, only to find out later that it’s “fake news?” You’ll probably think this is funny coming from a person with a genealogy web site but here goes:  Don’t believe everything you see on the web.

Can You Prove You’re Related to All Those People?

Don’t be afraid to ask other people for real-world documentation of their work or hesitate to correct an error if you have documentation to prove your information is correct. On the internet, out here in “cyberspace,” you will find many genealogies that people have put together without documentation. It is very easy to accumulate lots of names and dates quickly and some people don’t hesitate to copy someone else’s work, put it in with their own work, and say they did the research. The problem is that they don’t remember where they found that date or how they know Uncle Arnold had six wives and twenty kids. (We’ll be talking more about sources and documentation as we go along.)

To be fair here, we’re not talking about people deliberately trying to spread “fake genealogy.” Many people who truly mean well are simply so excited about getting their family trees on the internet for the first time and are in such a hurry to publish their work that they neglect to include the sources of their information. Personally, I look at other people’s work and use it as a signpost along my road back in time. If they list sources, I check some or all of the information to see if I can find it, too. If it’s undocumented, that doesn’t mean it’s not valid. However, no one is perfect and one of the biggest parts of genealogy is correcting honest mistakes made long before you ever entered the game.

The Internet is Great for Family Tree Research, BUT . . .

The internet has obviously been a boon to family tree researchers. I remember doing genealogy before the internet was widely available, and I have no wish to go back to those days, thank you! Still, I do not use the internet to add everyone else’s work to my own in order to see how large my database can get. No, I use the internet to locate helpful books and documents that have now been scanned and made available to the public.

Even the most thorough researcher can slip up, so my last piece of advice on this topic is this: don’t be afraid to accept correction of your own published genealogy research on the internet. Even as I’ve corrected honest mistakes made by others along the way, I accept that I am quite capable of making mistakes myself. Remember that, when it comes to genealogy, getting it right is more important than being right.

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