For some examples, I will go back to my Great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner, who, by the way, is extensively, I should say exhaustively documented online. Here is a list of some of the variations in the birth date and place taken from Ancestry.com's online Public Member Family Trees. Please note that the spelling of the name of the town in California is San Bernardino.
11 Jun 1852, San Bernardino, San Bernardino Co., California
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, San Bernadino, CA
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, San Bernadino, California, United States
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, S Brno., CA
11 Jun 1852 SB, S, California, USA
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, S Brno., CA, USA
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, S Brno., Ca
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, San Bernadino CO, CA, USA
11 Jun 1852 San Bernadino, San Bernadino, California
Now, how do you cite the city, county, state and country in "standard" format? I suggest this is the full and should be standard entry:
11 June 1852, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California, United States (or USA whatever)
As I have noted many times in the past, San Bernardino County was not formed until 1853. SAN BERNARDINO created from LOS ANGELES. (Calif. Stats. 1853, 4th sess., ch. 78/pp. 119–123) See Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. But ignoring the mistakes, such as misspelling the name of the town and county, and the inaccuracies, such as the wrong county, it is clear that there is no standard way of putting the information into an online program. So here are the questions:
- Do we care?
- Is there any reason at all to care?
- Should we be concerned about consistency?
- Does it matter that the entries are different?
- Since the correct information is freely available and there is no controversy, why should we even think about having a standard?
- Isn't this a free country and we can all do what what we want?
- Some of these contributors may be just starting out and do we want to discourage them with a need for accuracy?
I suggest that we have a more basic issue than merely establishing data exchange standards. Do I really want to exchange data from someone who has some of these types of entries? Do I want to spend the rest of my life cleaning up some one else's citations, when I have enough of that to do with my own database? Wouldn't it be nice to decide if the standard way of citing the country here in America was either "United States" or "USA" or even if adding that is even necessary as sort-of a basic beginning?
I could go on to dates and names but it would be too discouraging. I would guess that most of these entries come from people who have absolutely no awareness at all of anything approaching a standard way of entering data. They have probably never even heard of the concept. So, back to my question. Do we really want to try to exchange data when this type of problem exists? I can be a meticulous as all get out and then add a few of these entries into my database? Think again.
Now, I do not want to become the standards police of the genealogical community; the job doesn't pay enough. But the inconsistencies do raise some serious issues when you get into the larger discussion of standards for exchanging data. There are issues that are more insidious. Why would you want to exchange data when the standard for accuracy is so low as to be non-existent? I am speaking of the standard of citing the location with the jurisdictions that were in existence at the time the event occurred. Even if we ignore the differences in format, can we simply ignore the fact than none of these people even suspect that the county did not exist at the time of the event and probably do not care?
By the way, there are 83,115 family trees on Ancestry.com with a reference to Henry Martin Tanner and in going through the entries for a couple of pages, I did not find one accurate entry. Oh, I could have gone on and on about the lack of sources, but one example is sufficient. This is the source cited for the entries:
Hasn't the genealogical community dug itself into a hole we can't get out of? Doesn't creating a better information exchange standard simply facilitate this whole mess?