I have been listening to a lot of comments that verge into ranting about mistakes, carelessness, inaccuracy and outright lies in online family trees. I would guess that my first impression is that this is absolutely not new news. My very first and early introduction to genealogy involved the commonly heard refrain that "my genealogy is all done." Some people apparently cannot imagine the impossibility of that statement. When I started to investigate that claim, I immediately began to find the mistakes etc. That was over 30 years ago and I have been hearing other researchers complain ever since. More lately because of a much greater involvement with the community.
For me, this is really a great relief. When I was actively practicing law and everyone identified me as a lawyer, I got the long stories from everyone about their legal problems. But now, it is the same thing only the topic has changed to genealogy. This is a much more pleasant topic and more enjoyable. Plus, I don't feel any particular obligation to solve the entire world's genealogy problems. I have enough of my own. The difficult part of this process of listening is to determine whether or not the person is actually asking for help or merely venting their frustrations. I am certainly willing to help those who want help, but it is a waste of time to try to help those who merely want to complain. I catch on usually when the person starts to repeat telling me how bad their genealogy is messed up on an online family tree for the third or fourth time. They keep repeating the problem as if I were a two year old. Maybe I look like I am stupid?
Well, that said, the issue is a fundamental human issue not anything particularly unique to genealogy. Since I have moved to Utah, I notice that there are a few common issues here that are quite different from Arizona. When I mention genealogy in Arizona, I am entirely ignored. When I mention genealogy in Utah, even to people I meet casually, I get immediately get the entire story of their life and complaints about the subject of this post. This response has to be related to the differences in the way people drive here as opposed to Arizona. I am not saying that Arizona drivers are particularly good but they are predictable. Here in Utah they drive like there is no law and no tomorrow. While driving the train stations, five or so minutes from my house, I began counting all the traffic violations I saw. Let's just say that I have seen almost every possible violation. I am guessing that their driving habits here in Utah mirror their accuracy in genealogy.
Don't get me wrong. I like Utah. I like Arizona too, but it is time for us to live here. Anyway, one benefit here in Utah is that I cannot go anywhere without running into people I know, usually from my lengthy genealogy career. It is really nice to talk to people on the street. That never happens when the weather is over 110 degrees in Mesa or Phoenix.
What can we do about the list of bad things about genealogy? I am entirely convinced that the solution lies in sources. We may not be able to stop any of the garbage being dumped into the online family trees, but the key is looking first to see if there are any sources cited and second to verify the content of the sources. I would simply ignore all of the family trees with no sources the same as ignoring the Utah drivers turning right out of the left turn lane or driving through red lights after coming to a stop (really, I see this all the time. People come to a complete stop and then treat the red light like a stop sign).
Accuracy, like charity, begins at home. If we are collectively anxious to document and source the details of our own genealogy, then we are on the high ground and can help others. But if we neglect our own sources, we have no excuse. I wish this worked with the Utah drivers, personally, I am just trying to keep from being smashed.