RootsTech 2014

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sourcing in FamilySearch Family Tree

I recently wrote about the paucity of source citations in a number of surname books about my ancestral lines. The basic issue here is my inability to confirm or deny the information without doing my own research. Let's say I look at the following book:

Tanner, Maurice, and George C. Tanner. Descendants of John Tanner: Born August 15, 1778 at Hopkintown, R.I., Died April 15, 1850 at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah. [S.l.]: Tanner Family Association, 1942.

This is the "basic" Tanner family book that I have been shown since I was a child as the "authority" on the Tanner line. There is a major problem with the book. It has little or no citation to any sources for the information. It relies heavily on the work done by George C. Tanner and published in two books:

Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. [Minneapolis, Minn.]: Pub. by the author, 1905.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

As pointed out recently in a blog post by my daughter, Amy Thiriot, in some instances, the information is neither sourced nor accurate. See John Tanner: Greenwich and Argyle, New York. But this information has been copied over and over again in books and thousands of family group records. There are many examples of the types of errors that have been perpetuated. 

As I look at FamilySearch.org's Family Tree today, I see the entry for John Tanner's first child, Elisha Bently Tanner, with incorrect information. Despite the fact that I have literally tens of thousands of relatives who are descendants of John Tanner and further despite the fact that a huge number of them are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, apparently, until my daughter and I have decided to scrutinize the records has anyone made an attempt to correct the information. 

What is particularly interesting to me is that representatives of FamilySearch are using the Tanner family, my ancestors, as examples as they do presentations in person and online about Family Tree. So I see the same incorrect information being referred to constantly. 

FamilySearch Family Tree has the potential to resolve this never ending repetition of inaccurate information by adding sources and documentation for all of these disputed dates.  But the real question is will it happen? Will people take the time to question the existing status quo of inaccurate information and correct it? The program has made it as simple as possible to add accurate source information. The program has now been online and available to my extended family for almost a year. But as I go through the information on the Tanner line, as an example, I find virtually no sources added by anyone other than me and my daughter. 

If this type of inaccurate information exists in my family with all the books and family members, what is the status of the rest of the "accepted" and unsourced family information in Family Tree and a thousand other family trees online? Well, my assessment is pretty miserable. I use the example of the Tanner family because of the relatively large number of books printed on their ancestry. 

Now is the time to start to break this repetitious cycle. Let's start adding sources to Family Tree (and any other online family tree files in other programs) and get busy with the work of genealogists and not perpetuate another generation of copyists! 



4 comments:

  1. James you said, "FamilySearch Family Tree has the potential to resolve this never ending repetition of inaccurate information by adding sources and documentation for all of these disputed dates. . . . If this type of inaccurate information exists in my family with all the books and family members, what is the status of the rest of the "accepted" and unsourced family information in Family Tree and a thousand other family trees online? Well, my assessment is pretty miserable. I use the example of the Tanner family because of the relatively large number of books printed on their ancestry.

    "Now is the time to start to break this repetitious cycle. Let's start adding sources to Family Tree (and any other online family tree files in other programs) and get busy with the work of genealogists and not perpetuate another generation of copyists!"

    Sources? Much of the incorrect data on your family and untold millions of others was copied into trees from badly compiled genealogical publications, such as the error-riddled books on the Tanners that you cite. "Source" is not the problem. Lack of ~evidence~ together with informed evaluation of type, nature of source, applicability and import is the problem.

    The problem with a wiki-tree is that no matter how much effort you expend to enter corrections, someone will come along and change the data back to agree with their beliefs (for whatever reason) or to agree with one of the mistaken assertions in the books. They might even cite the book-source, in accord with your suggestion.

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  2. Thankyou for a recent article on gaining access to FamilyTree; the directions helped me finally get in.
    While exploring, I have found many recent entries by "FamilySearch" which are not sourced. I can guess which microfilms the information was extracted from by the placenames. However, these films haven't been digitized yet. I could add sourcing for the entries of films I have evaluated, but there are so many spelling errors and wrong assumptions that matching entries on-line with my records is time-consuming, and I have no way to show I am right.
    Wouldn't it help the credibility of FamilyTree, if no unsourced entry could be made?

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    Replies
    1. bgwiehle, you put your finger on one of the big flaws in how the tree was compiled. When stuff from IGI, AncestralFile and PedigreeResourceFile was uploaded to new.FamilySearch, what source-data existed in the original submissions (GEDCOM files, family group sheets, etc.) had already been stripped out of the databases. This is not reversible. Now that the data, including erroneous 'combinations' of persons in n.FS is being migrated to FamilySearch-Family Tree, source-citations are lacking. One can not even tell whether an "individual" who is obviously a composite of quite different persons (I ran into one who had been a combination of several different persons with different surnames, different spouses, different parents, different children) is bearing vital dates that went with the original person with the resultant name -- the dates might have gone with a person with completely different name.

      Even worse, new.FamilySearch still allows immediate uploading of GEDCOM files without any cross-checking for duplicates or wrong data. And even more worse (heheheh), those using 3rd-party software can still use it in n.FS to combine individuals. Wrong combinations in n.FS can not be undone in FS-FT, and can only be undone by contacting Support. Thus lots of bad data is still being migrated to FS-FT from n.FS. With no source-citations, much less presentations of evidence.

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