Online Family Trees – BUYER BEWARE

An astute and concerned member of the Quinte Branch, Mary Culloden, pointed out a pitfall in researching approach that can easily lead new family history researchers astray. That trap is the ease with which many online sites provide a simple way to grow one’s new family tree by simply “adding details from existing online trees” without regard to the accuracy or source of the information.


My principal concern. and this is personal, is not the citation of the source but the accuracy of the information. I tended to include source citations on a separate document, although this has proven clumsy as software developed over the years. I have never just CLICKED to include information from online trees into my research. I do look at online trees and try to assess how much the author really cases about the accuracy of information and how intensely they are engaged in research. Do they have a command of their information and an insight into the “big picture” or just a lot of records. The absolute number of records in an online tree is not always a perfect measure of the accuracy of the tree. Does a particular tree cite “original records”, like BMD records after civil registration or church/civil records from earlier periods. Some of the transcriptions offered by sites like Ancestry can boggle the mind, sometimes done by folks for whom English was not a first, or maybe even a second language. I try to get a sense of the life that an individual lived in their social context more than just “collect facts”, even accurate ones. Good research should probably raise more questions than it answers.

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