Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Noise pollution in the genealogy channel

In engineering, noise is defined as a signal that interferes with the detection of or quality of another signal. Noise can also be defined as "acoustic signals which can negatively affect the physiological or psychological well-being of an individual." See Kryter, Karl D. The Handbook of Hearing and the Effects of Noise: Physiology, Psychology, and Public Health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1994. Basically, in genealogy, noise is anything in your environment that is unwanted. Unwanted noise can effectively reduce both the quality of your work and your enjoyment.

As genealogists we put up with all of the normal sources of noise pollution in our complex society, but we have our own brand of noise pollution that is becoming more and more pervasive and intrusive; unwanted incorrect and/or inaccurate data from well meaning co-workers in genealogy.

This is another commentary on New FamilySearch and all the unwanted data in that program, this particular issue comes up much more insidiously. Frequently, I get E-mails from some large online subscription service about how many new relatives they have found for me. I find this happening on Facebook continually. Although I avoid anything except the bare minimum of Facebook activity, I cannot start the program without having several notifications of new relatives they have found for me. It is just one more click to get rid of this unwanted information, but it is a constant background to everything I read on Facebook.

I get the same thing from When I log in, right there on the home page is a list of "Recent Member Connect Activity" I am absolutely sure that I could keep up with thousands of my relatives if I wanted to do so, but when I am working, I do not want to be distracted by someone's 300th copy of my family lines. MyHeritage is another source of noise. I get constant invitations from people who claim to have found me as a relative which is not surprising to me at all. But these invitations are merely a way to get me to sign in to My Heritage. By and large the information coming from these channels is noise because it is inaccurate copies of existing information where people think they are doing genealogy by copying someone else's family tree.

I was very early in putting all of my research onto the Internet. My research has been on the Pedigree Resource File almost from the beginning of that online database and in the Ancestral File since before it was computerized. What is frustrating is trying to separate people who are just throwing back my own research from those who may actually have something to say. I would welcome, with a glad heart, anyone who would like to do some original and helpful research on my lines. I did have an example of that recently, when a cousin in Utah found some original source information about a marriage of a distant ancestor that had never been cited previously.  But for every new fact, there are hundreds of copies.

Just today, I logged into and had a list of Recent Member Connect Activity. Out of curiosity and in conjunction with writing this post, I clicked on the link to see how we might be related. We were related which is not surprising since I have literally tens of thousands of cousins, but then I clicked on the link to the "Owner" and it said "Last log in: Over 6 months ago." OK, this is noise pollution. This person is not actively working on my line. This is trying to sell their program. I just wasted my time looking at a link that is entirely meaningless and redundant.

What I see as a major issue with this problem is that it appears that most of my distant relatives think they are doing genealogy, when all they are really doing is listening to the noise pollution. Sad, but true.


  1. I agree with what you have to say here. However, the "last login six months ago" is not always accurate. I see that quite often, but when I go into the person's tree to browse, I see that they actually have been active within the last few days.

  2. This has nothing at all to do with your point, but one interesting thing I've noticed about Ancestry lately--the last log in thing doesn't appear to be accurate.

    I recently contacted an Ancestry user because she appeared to be a descendant of the owner of a scrapbook I'd picked up at a yard sale years ago. It said, "Last Log In: Over 6 Months Ago." I was not optimistic...but lo and behold, I heard from her the very next day. She had logged in to reply to my message (we corresponded through Ancestry, not through email) but it still said the same thing.

    Then I noticed that my own profile said, "Last Log In: Over 6 Months Ago." I am on Ancestry daily.

    Technically, I haven't "logged in" for probably at least six months though, because I stay logged in all of the time.

    I don't think that particular message status works the way it's supposed to.

    (That said, I agree that Ancestry is marketing to us with that feature...although I don't necessarily blame them for doing so).

  3. 1. Do not rely on the "last login" date. Those of us who never sign out will have a mis-leading date.
    2. You can modify your Ancestry homepage so that the activity box is removed or positioned less prominently. Also you can customize which items are included in the activity list.
    3. As far as I can tell, my downloads to a hard drive do not appear in anyone else's activity list. So that source of "noise" is missing. Since I don't have a tree on Ancestry, I try to follow up on the notifications on my list in a timely fashion.

  4. Two comments:
    The Ancestry last log in date can be terribly inaccurate. I have had several last log in 6 mos people, who have just posted something that I have found useful.
    If you don't want noise, you don't want new information. Each one of us has different objectives. There is no such thing as a research gold vein. All research involves a high percentage of dreck. Get over it. The key to research is learning how to filter your dreck, to find the small piece of coal of info that you need.