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

Friday, October 28, 2011

No Excuse -- just bad genealogy

I think I am getting worn away by all the really bad genealogy I see almost every day. I feel like I am bailing the ocean with a teacup or maybe only a spoon. I realize the people who are wearing me away aren't even vaguely aware of blogs, genealogy blogs, this genealogy blog or much else in the world, but I am hoping, with a small glimmer of hope, that someone will help these poor unfortunate people overcome their really, really bad genealogy.

What set me off on a rant this time? A combination of factors. Surprisingly, the non-announcement of a New FamilySearch Beta test. I started to get notices from a few people that had received invitations to participate with promises to keep the rest of us informed. Maybe things seem darkest when you can see that glimmer of hope at the end of a really long tunnel?

Here it goes, today's picks for things that drive me crazy.

1. Entries on family group records without a semblance of using the shift key. Either the entries are all in capital letters or there is no capitalization at all, the entire entry is in lower case letters.

I am trying hard here not to be an elitist and scorn those who do not measure up to my standards. But come on, let's be a tiny bit consistent. Anciently, back in the days of 11x17 inch paper family group records, we went through a phase where the standard was to put the surnames in capital letters. I assume this was to make the surname standout from the rest of the typing and make identification easier. Recognizing this old standard, many genealogy programs have a provision for allowing all caps or change the case to regular sentence structure. With today's programs, there is no longer any need to have surnames in all caps. If it is necessary, the surname can be marked with forward slashes. But having the entire entry in all caps or all lower case is just plain sloppy. But how can I trust someone with accurate dates and information, that can't pick up on even this small detail? OK, so do I have to make allowances for the e. e. cummings of the genealogy world? USE THE SHIFT KEY!!! Get the idea. In today's online world, all caps is equal to shouting.

2. Please do not show me another entry in your genealogy that says "Mary, abt 1900." This person must of had a birth date and a birth place. I don't mind having people put in guesses or entering the given name when the surname is unknown, but why do these people feel compelled to publish their genealogy online with incomplete or inaccurate entries? Keep your speculation and bad research to yourself. If you can't find someone born in the 20th Century don't tell me about it. (Really, I would be glad to help especially if you are just learning, but come on, the 20th Century?)

3. Copying verbatim the above problems. Not only are there people who don't care enough about detail to have very sloppy genealogy, there are those who copy it all without making even the slightest effort to check the accuracy or even correct the bad typing.

4. Thinking that the only source for genealogy is the U.S. Census. I have written about this recently. You cannot believe how many people, who have supposedly been doing some kind of research activity for years, have never gotten beyond and the U.S. Census. Last week I helped a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center find her father and grandfather on the U.S. Census. This week she came back and asked me to show it to her again, because someone who was helping her couldn't find the same entry. She thought I was magic or something because I could find her father and grandfather under their names in There was no spelling issue, they were right there under their names with wives and children listed. Let's move on folks. Start using all of the millions of other records available.

5. OK, here's today's worst. Because I swim in a sea of New FamilySearch, I have to deal with it almost every day. The issue is people who think they are doing "research into their genealogy" when they are copying user submitted family trees, without doing even a modicum of verification.

My last comment for today; don't claim to have a real "brickwall" until you have read every edition of every small town newspaper in the area of your research. I have a friend who brought me a stack of research including a copy of an obituary in a small town newspaper. This person is trying to find out about the person in the obituary. When I asked her about where the obituary came from, since I have yet to find it online, she replied, someone gave it to me. That wears me away just a little bit more. She wants suggestions about where to look for more information. Here is the suggestion, look in the newspaper that had the obituary.


  1. I guess I'm saying the same thing as you are when I say there are people "out there" calling themselves genealogists who have never pushed themselves away from the computer. And many who think that finding a piece of information in a book means it is "of course, true." I have talked myself silly trying to explain what "proof" is -- to no available. It just gets very discouraging!

  2. I came here looking for information on who owns Genealogy Bank and now I'm going to read the rest of your blog.

    I noticed right away that many trees on are pure fantasy. One pet peeve is obviously incorrect citations based on a woman's maiden name, i.e. marriages, death dates.

    I've just started my genealogy journey based on finding a first or second cousin via DNA, and am now looking for living people who might have "intersected" with my mother.

  3. I have to disagree with you on your second point about having full dates for births in the 20th century.

    In my area of research (Georgia), birth certificates weren't recorded until 1918, and even then, in the rural areas birth certificates weren't recorded consistently until well into the 1920's.

    Many births are not recorded in local newspapers. There are quite a few instances where I knew a person's date of birth with absolute certainty, but when you browse through the relevant newspapers, there's no mention of the birth at all. Many children were born on small, rural farms, and their births were reported to no one. Occasionally the births would be recorded in a Bible, but most farmers were illiterate, so there aren't many such Bibles, and even when there are, finding them can be difficult or nearly impossible.

    Of course, oftentimes you can find the date of birth on the person's gravestone. But sometimes the date of birth isn't even listed on the tombstone, or is given only as a year, not a full date. One of my ancestors was a pauper, and her tombstone is just a tiny slab of rock with her initials and year of death (1925) inscribed.

  4. Oh, and another example: My great-grandfather was born in the 20th century, but he didn't even know his own birthday, and there seems to be no record of it anywhere. Eventually he just adopted his wife's date of birth.

  5. My husband just found a great-aunt with all sorts of wrong information online. She was born in 1898 and died in 1993, with absolutely no dispute over dates or locations for any events in her life. But still someone managed to ignore all the documentation and list her as another child on her parent's records. In about 10 minutes online, we were able to find the documentation with images for all her events. We are not even remotely close to professional genealogists. Now, in looking at the records again, there are about five conflicting records listing where she was born in 1898: Taylor, Apache, Arizona; Taylor, Navajo, Arizona; Arizona; unknown, etc. Navajo county was formed from Apache county in 1895, a fact found in about 60 seconds online. We didn't even have to move from our computer to find all this. There is absolutely no excuse for entering incorrect information for someone like her.

  6. You are so spot on and your comments are so true to the point. Bottom Line is everyone wants to be a known genealogist in their perspective families but only a few of us have the devotion and passion that it takes to be one. Many copy from others and take the credit. I don't mind. It's when they change the data that is a well known source that's troublesome. When you share your tree exclude the dates. They will soon realize how time consuming this profession is and drop up. One great thing will happen. All the lies and BS on the internet will soon disappear. Cheers.
    Roderick B

  7. Just found this and appreciate it. I have come across the family of one of my great grandfather's sisters where the data they have published is incorrect from historical documentation. The 1880 Census shows her born in 1876 and her graduating class from high school yearbook shows her graduating in 1895. Her marriage certificate was altered (you can see the erasure mark) to shave 5 years off so that she would not be older than her husband. And she shaved a further five years off for a total of 10 years (making her younger than her youngest sister) in her obituary showing born in 1886 and died in 1954. When I pointed this out to her and sent the correct historical citations, she said she would not change it because Grandma said it and she believed it and this is our family's truth as written in the family Bible. I asked another great Aunt's daughter who told me her Mother's sister was quite a beauty and very vain and that she introduced her Mother as her older sister although she graduated high school 6 years before. Okay. I moved on. Very interesting. Thanks.