I have been watching and interesting development in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. My ancestor Phillip Taber, (b. abt. 1644, d. bef 4 March 1892/3) was married to Mary Cooke (b. abt 1652, d. between 26 April 1708 and 25 January 1714/15). She was the daughter of John Cooke (b. abt 1806, d. 23 November 1695) and Sarah Warren (b. abt 1614, d. aft 15 july 1696). John Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower and his wife, Sarah Warren, was the daughter of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, (b. abt 1579, d. 1628). All of these people have been the object of intense genealogical research and subsequent scrutiny for over 200 years. Although the dates are approximate, there is absolutely no controversy over their identity. See the General Society of Mayflower Descendants aka The Mayflower Society.
I have written about this particular line on various occasions over the years. I am focusing on Philip Taber because of a situation existing in the Family Tree program. In Family Tree, Philip Taber Here is a screenshot illustrating this portion of the Family Tree:
Note that Philip Taber is entered as Philip Taber II. Also note that Mary Cooke's parents are missing. Rather than simply being wrong, this situation points out several issue that are common to all genealogists no matter what their experience level or their degree of meticulous care. The situation that exists in Family Tree is in absolutely no way the product of anything done or not done by FamilySearch. In this case, the situation merely reflects about 150 years of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of different researchers doing and redoing research on these same families. All FamilySearch has done is to collect all that research into one place at one time. Now, if we look at Philip Taber's details we see the following:
First, the information contained in the Family Tree entry is wrong. The correct information has been verified and re-verified and has also been subject to challenge for at least a hundred years. If anyone had valid proof of any alternative dates or places, they would have been accepted or proven wrong years ago. That is not to say that there is no controversy surrounding this particular family. It is relatively easy to find alternative claims and information online. In addition, Family Tree shows Philip Taber with 23 wives.
Of course, not all of the wives shown can fit in one screenshot. My question is which of these alternatives would you choose as correct? How would you do your research to determine your choice? Why would you believe the Mayflower Society over some other online claim to the truth about the family? Oh, by the way, the 23 wives is just the beginning. You need to realize that Philip Taber has hundreds of copy variations in the Family Tree program inherited from combinations made in New.FamilySearch.org and when they exceeded the limit, are still waiting to be merged.
The tendency here is to blame FamilySearch or the ignorance and/or incompetence of the contributor researchers. However, as I said, FamilySearch is merely the messenger here. In addition, the research was done by well-meaning people over the last 150 years or so and reflects the individual variations in the research. The real challenge here is arbitrating the hundreds of variations across thousands (perhaps millions) of individuals who are already entered into programs such as FamilySearch Family Tree.
If you look closely at the information for Philip Taber II above, you will see that the variations sometimes fall within the range of dates given by the Mayflower Society. So how is anyone supposed to decide which of the various claims is correct if the Mayflower Society cannot come up with a definite date of birth or death? This points up a serious genealogical issue. It is sometimes impossible to make specific determinations from scanty or non-existent evidence through lack of sources. This is especially true when research extends back into the 17th Century.
I do know one definite fact: Philip Taber (II or whatever) did not have 23 different wives. It is very likely that with one or two exceptions the names listed as wives are duplicates caused by variations in the way the name, dates or places are recorded. What if I were to merge all the "duplicate" files and impose my personal research facts on the whole genealogical community? I should note at this point that none of the long list of alternative names in the supposed duplicates has a valid source. Many of the so-called sources are merely acknowledgements that the records were copied from another family tree.
In this list there is one non-conformist challenge in the form of a claim that Philip Taber was really John Thomson. There is a long narrative attached to the file describing the history of this person and claiming that "he married 26 Dec 1645, Mary Cooke, b. 1626, dau. of Francis Cooke, one of the Pilgrim Fathers who came over on the "Mayflower."" This claim would seem to invalidate the entire extensive narrative since Mary Cooke was born in 1652 and was the granddaughter of Francis Cooke, not his daughter. Francis Cooke had a daughter named Mary who did marry a John Thomson, but this particular entry seems to have confused the different Mary Cookes.
So, overlaying the diligent, although unsourced attempts at representing this particular family, there is a layer of research not only lacking in sources but confused and patently inconsistent on its face. Unfortunately simply washing our hands of the entire issue will not solve the problem. It is also not helpful to dismiss all of the variations as the work of misguided and incompetent amateurs. The fact that the correct information is vague but readily available adds to the problem rather than solution.