Friday, March 28, 2014

Darned Online Trees

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Online Trees

Do you hate those online trees like I do? You too may be guilty of “source snobbery.”

“Disdained sources may contain accurate information found nowhere else,” Thomas W. Jones wrote in a recent article in Onboard, the newsletter of the BCG. “Some source types have higher error rates than others, but no type is error-free or worthless.”

In the article, “Perils of Source Snobbery,” Jones lists “undocumented and unverified databases, family and local histories, genealogical compendiums, heritage books, old lineage-society applications, [and] online family trees” as disdained source categories.

However, these sources might contain information from eye witnesses, or from destroyed, hard to find, or unknown records. I experienced this myself. Only by checking a compiled genealogy did I discover the existence of a journal containing the direct evidence I sought.

Jones gives examples of the contrary situation, preferred sources like government birth and death records that contain erroneous information. All would be worthy of spotlight in this column. Preferred sources are the mainstay of careful research, but their accuracy is not guaranteed.

“A source’s accuracy is unknown until the researcher has accumulated enough evidence for tests of correlation—the comparison and contrasting of sources and information to reveal points of agreement and disagreement.”

So if you too are guilty of “source snobbery,” you may want to think again. Darned source snobbery.


You can read Jones’s entire article on the BCG website.


  1. Great point. I have been guilty of "source snobbery" and I will repent....with caution.

  2. There is a family tree book published before 1925 for my family which contains several errors about my branch but because this was privately published and only family members bought one, I have no idea where they all are now. I want to correct that branch but don't see any way to do it other than my public tree at And then I have the family who quotes the book back to me because "that's what grandma said" even though I have the documentation for my 3x great grandparents. So the book lives on and on; wrong.

  3. When I find unsourced information on those public trees I try to contact the owner. However I often get no response or they tell me all their information is already on line. In other words, they have no sources. Rarely I get more info & am glad I followed up but those rare contacts are wonderful!


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