Genealogy Pet Peeves: Useless Sources

These two pet peeves are somewhat related, but they occur on different websites.

On FamilySearch, I see a lot of information added to the tree with the notation “GEDcom data.” What that means is that the contributor was working from a family tree that they or someone else built on a computer somewhere. It is NOT a source. A source is an original document or an index or even something that someone told you. My maternal grandmother Willie Stevens Cook, or maybe my mom, told me that Willie’s birthday was January 13, 1909. The source would be personal knowledge. I have a photo of a page from Willie’s mother’s Bible listing that date. I could cite the Bible, which is in the possession of my cousin. I could attach a copy of her birth certificate, which says January 14th, and explain all the reasons why it’s January 13th everywhere else. I shouldn’t say, “GEDcom data.”

In my mind, GEDcom data is the equivalent of saying, “They say….” Like, they say wearing a tinfoil hat will protect you from mind control. Who is they? What evidence do they have that tinfoil can block communication waves? And is tinfoil the same as aluminum foil?

The other pet peeve I have in mind today is found on Ancestry, and it’s a situation that Ancestry has created for some unknown reason. It happens when Ancestry offers a hint about a relative on your tree. Sometimes the hints are actual documents in a collection of historical records. Other times, they’re just pointing out that another family tree has information that might relate to your family. They give you (if you are a paid member) a button to add that information to your family tree. Ancestry does nothing to verify that the information is correct or relevant to your family. If someone else comes along and looks at your family tree, and they look at the sources, they’ll see the tantalizing words “Ancestry Family Tree.” If you click any other source, such as a census record, Ancestry will show you the record. If you click on “Ancestry Family Tree,” you basically get a link to the Ancestry website. I mean, it should at least give you the name of the family tree the person copied and either the date the tree was created or the date the information was copied. If the tree has been deleted, it should say that. With all their algorithms, the system should be able to notified everyone who copied the information if it is later changed or corrected.

If you are building a family tree, please put where you got the information. If you find something on someone else’s family tree online, make a note of whose tree it’s on, and then try to find actual evidence, such as a vital record, a will, a census page. Include that information on the profile, either by attaching a link to the record or leaving a detailed note that will help other family members verify the data. If you’re uploading or copying a GEDcom file, include a note about who created the file and when. Did that person list any sources?

Never assume that anyone else’s work is correct. Review their sources or find your own and cite them. Otherwise, you may as well just be making it all up.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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