OK, that was really corny. But the underlying issue is real. Let's analyze this issue for a moment. If there are about 7.1 billion people on the earth, there is a very remote possibility that each of those people could decided to put a family tree online. Of course, there would be a massive amount of duplication but then think for a minute more, I have, at least a half a dozen or more different copies of my own family tree online, so theoretically, there is no upper limit to the number of potential family trees online.
The prevailing attitude of the more experienced genealogists towards online family trees falls into several categories from totally ignoring them to actively ranting about the errors and wrong family connections. A significant group of genealogists adamantly refuse to put their genealogical data online or even provide copies to family members. They do this for a variety of reasons including the claim that the work is not complete (it never could be) and that their research is their own work and no one else is going to see it or use it. My experience is that the vast majority of casual genealogists, those who devote only a very small amount of time to the pursuit, have no idea of the amount of family tree data online.
Just for an example. My great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, is included in FamilySearch.org Family Tree and every other online family tree program I have ever looked at. On Ancestry.com there are 3,933 family trees containing him and his family. I use this ancestor as an indicator of the validity of any copied family trees. He was born in 1852 in San Bernardino, Los Angeles County, California. But most of the books and old family group records show the county as San Bernardino County which did not exist in 1852. Despite the fact that you can verify this fact from a number of online sources, the erroneous information is contained in the vast majority of the online family trees in Ancestry.com alone. But in most of the family trees, the birth information is either incomplete or missing altogether.
At this point, when I am discussing this issue in a class, I usually get a comment about who cares? So what if thousands of people are incompetent? Well, is there any possibility that academia, for example, will ever take genealogy seriously when there is such a proliferation of trash online? Not likely. How can anyone tell which, if any, of all those tree have accurate information about the family? Now, perhaps you see the value of my initial analogy. These millions of family trees create an almost impenetrable jungle for anyone trying to ascertain correct information about their ancestors.
Another common reaction to this issue is saying, "Well, just ignore the whole thing." Yeah, I could do that, but unfortunately, I get them thrown in my face continually. The problem is that every time I do a search on Ancestry.com or any other program with linked family trees, I get results from those bogus family trees.
Another example. I am also a member of Geni.com. Referring back to Henry Martin Tanner, I find that the family tree on Geni.com also has the wrong birth county for Henry Martin Tanner. Even if you were to have a "gold master copy" of the right information somewhere online, what are the chances that all this misinformation will be corrected?
But there is an even deeper issue with the birth information about Henry Martin Tanner. As experienced genealogists, we know that an event should be recorded as the locations existed at the time of the event. But very few genealogists know about this rule and even fewer care about it. Why would you want to spend what little time you have to do research in correcting all of the online misinformation?
If you were really new to family history and you stumbled across some website such a Ancestry.com or Geni.com, what would you do with all the information you found?