I don’t have time to correct everyone’s data, so what am I supposed to do?

31 Jan

Last night I ended up looking at some online family trees, shaking my head and tutting at the errors I was finding, and the errors that I was finding that were being replicated over and over again. I should say that I don’t claim to be perfect, I am only human after all.

Whilst I must confess to obtaining a certain satisfaction from finding fault and picking holes in other people’s work (which is no doubt why I spent so long working in quality assurance) I know that it is not a trait that I should be particularly proud of.

I am in the fortunate position of having local knowledge and reasonably easy access to original source documents for most of my ancestors, so I can’t be too hard on researchers hundreds of miles away from making mistakes, but what I can (and do) get annoyed about is people accepting the research of others at face value without  checking.

In one case the details I was seeing have circulated online for many years, as long as I have been researching. I was suspicious when I first saw it, and later proved quite conclusively to myself that it was incorrect, but that false information is still being perpetuated.

My dilemma is what to do about all this wrong information?

I have been largely ignoring it, but I feel guilty about this because I should be sharing my data and helping others, also making contact with distant cousins along the way. The problem I have is all the time and effort that this would take, perhaps selfishly I believe this time would be better spent doing new research and not going over old ground.

The other problem is whether it would actually achieve anything if I was able to convince all those people with online trees to update them. What about those people who have copied the data and are using it offline?

The bottom line is that it is all really too much effort, but as a responsible genealogist I feel I have a duty to set the record straight. There must be an easier solution, because I really don’t have the time to correct everyone else’s data.

7 Responses to “I don’t have time to correct everyone’s data, so what am I supposed to do?”

  1. purplehifi February 1, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    Now you’ve got me worried!
    Do you have an online tree of your own where I (& sundry other distant cousins) could go to check where our data may differ from yours?

  2. geniaus February 1, 2011 at 8:39 am #


    I share your frustration. I regularly see errors especially on trees added to Ancestry.com and there are a lot of people there who are replicating the errors.

    Sites with unsourced trees have, however, provided me with valuable leads but I but always try to verify my sources.

  3. TheShyGenealogist February 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Wow, can I relate to this! Researching such a common name as “Smith” leads to all kinds of frustration, but it’s disheartening to see obviously inaccurate information repeated over and over in online trees. When you find that “easier solution”, please make sure you share with the rest of us!

  4. aussiemandas February 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Know where you are coming from its a bugbear but I just try to make corrections to my own online data when I become aware of any indiscrepancies but have a major issue with one website where I no longer have access to my own data. Like prices its all subject to change.

  5. John Gasson February 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    Some interesting points, thanks for your comments. So far I have deliberately held back from putting all my data online, because I just don’t know where from the many sites I should put it. Would I always be diligent enough to keep it up to date? Should it be on one site or many? Even then if someone with different data doesn’t find my online tree they will never know that we disagree.

    I think I need to lie down in a darkened room until my head stops spinning.

  6. msargena February 1, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    I hope it wasn’t mine you were tutting at John🙂. Probably was. I must admit that some of my own ones on line may contain some errors, and I don’t have time to upload new ones constantly. The biggest frustration I have is that whilst my off line family tree has lots of comments and questions if information is suspect or worthy of further research, this doesn’t often get uploaded with the gedcom, which could then be misleading to others. But sharing my tree does get me lots of useful comments, so I don’t really want to take it off line. Becomes a bit of a catch 22.

    Personally any data I see online via other family trees I always try and verify, but with very little time to do proper research it can be quite a problem.

  7. John Gasson February 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Don’t worry it wasn’t yours! But I think your comment sums up the problem nicely, keeping track of all the changes and including all the data must be a real headache.

    I usually try to verify everything whether online or offline, from some distant cousin or my own parents, we are all human and we all make mistakes, and I am sure my research is not perfect no matter how hard I try.

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