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

Friday, May 20, 2022

Goldie May Unrehearsed Genealogy Research, Episode 8: Iowa Probate Records

In this episode of the Goldie May Unrehearsed Genealogy Research, Richard and I explore an ancestor that disappears from the family at a relatively early age. The goal is to see if he died or simply left. We explore historic Iowa County Atlases, some probate records, searching on and the Images records on FamilySearch all supported with the Goldie May Research app. Here are links to the Goldie May website and the Goldie May YouTube Channel for further episodes and other information about the Goldie May app. 

Wasting time editing Mayflower Passengers on the FamilySearch Family Tree


The term "fact checking" has been much in the news over the last few years. The main issue is whether the information presented from an online source can be substantiated by reference to a reliable source. Historically, genealogy has been particularly susceptible to false relationship claims. Unless you have specifically spent time exploring the history of genealogy as opposed to family history or actually doing genealogical research, you may be unaware of the less than honorable history of genealogy. Here is one of the few books that explains this often ignored history of genealogy. 

Weil, Fran├žois. 2013. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

One thing this book does is to document the extensive genealogical fraud that existed in the latter half of the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century. The existence of this almost wholesale fraud is one of the reasons why genealogists have had such a hard time establishing themselves as serious historians and why so few colleges and universities offer degrees in genealogy. 

How does this affect us today? Well, there is still a sizable reservoir of "false" genealogical information that originates during these early times that is readily available from current genealogical sources. Although the accuracy of some of this information is due to ignorance and negligence, unfortunately, some of it can be traced back to publications connected to the rampant fraud. Because of this unreliable history, current genealogists need to be especially careful when their U.S. research crosses into the 1800s and earlier and make sure the information they copy is substantiated and supported by valid historical documents. 

One excellent example of the proliferation of unreliable genealogical information focuses on the passengers on the Mayflower. It is true that a significant percentage of the people in the United States are decedents of one or more Mayflower passengers and the effect of this is that many people can claim them as ancestors. In the FamilySearch Family Tree, this means that the records inherited by a huge number of people potentially contains unreliable information about the lines extending back to these few people.

Realistically, the identity of the passengers and their families has been extensively researched and documented and is not subject to any controversy. All of the sources and documentation are readily available in a series of books published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Despite these readily available references that include exhaustive documentation about every surviving passenger and up to 5 generations of their descendants, the individual entries in the Family Tree for the passengers and their descendants are subject to constant change with inaccurate information. 

Here is one example of the results of all of this misinformation concerning the Mayflower passengers and their families. This is an example of a list of some of the 73 changes and corrections made to one Mayflower passenger during the past 19 days from the date of this post. 

If you multiply the time wasted on this one person, where accurate, settled information is abundantly available, by all of the 53 surviving passengers, you will likely have a measurable percentage of all the work being done on the Family Tree each month. Every one of those changes was unnecessary and forced someone who was interested to constantly follow these individuals and constantly correct the entries. This has gone on month after month, day after day except for a brief time when Family Search made all of the entries read only during the pandemic and during the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. 

Tragically, this is only one of many such people and groups of people on the Family Tree that I call revolving door ancestors. This is also one of main reasons why many genealogists refuse to seriously consider the Family Tree as a viable alternative to their own family trees in other programs. 

What is interesting is that my Great-grandfather who is not at all subject to extensive changes or controversy has been made read-only in the Family Tree. Not only is he read-only, but so is his wife, my Great-grandmother and her children, including my own Grandfather and then my Grandfather's daughter, my aunt, who recently died. In short, three generations of this one family are read-only when there are few, if any changes going on, while the Mayflower passengers and many other similar ancestors are a free-for-all mess. Strangely, my own mother who is also dead and the sister of the read-only aunt, is not read-only. So even when the simple expedient of making someone who is being constantly changed read-only is available, the process is being applied inconsistently and without any stated reason. 

I have been writing about this issue for years and I and many others, have made suggested solutions. Although the presently constituted Family Tree is remarkably better than it was just a few years ago, it still has this one overriding issue left to be resolved. 

Until the free-for-all changes that occur to people like the Mayflower descendants, there will always be a complete lack of confidence in the reliability of the Family Tree. As a family, we spend an inordinate amount of time merely correcting unsubstantiated and unsourced changes. Isn't it about time this last frontier of reliability is seriously addressed?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Video of The Second Rule of Genealogy on YouTube

This series of short videos continues with The Second Rule of Genealogy. Ultimately, I hope to have all fourteen rules in this series.  Rule Two is "Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive."

These Rules of Genealogy are not trivial statements. They have deep meaning. This particular rule, which I have called Rule Two, is a good example. It comes from a common circumstance where a genealogical researcher gets hung up looking for a particular document of a particular event to the exclusion of more general research. 

Here is the first video in this series. The First Rule of Genealogy

Monday, May 16, 2022

Unrehearsed Genealogy Research, Episode 7: New York, early 1800s

We are on YouTube again with another episode of Unrehearsed Genealogy Research, Episode 7: New York, early 1800s. In this episode, we look at an end of line in my own part of the Family Tree. A land record provides the best evidence for the presence of a husband and wife in the given county of New York. We also discuss the complexities of researching a very thoroughly researched line on the FamilySearch tree.

You can see and view all the previous episodes on the Goldie May YouTube Channel or on a play list on my own YouTube Channel.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

What is a source and why do we care?

 This is a genealogically significant historical document. 

A genealogically significant historical document is one that contains information about an individual or a family. A genealogist is a person who searches historical documents for information about individuals and families and then analyzes, organizes, and records the information. A genealogist should identify the historical document using a citation. A citation is a formal, consistent way of identifying the document or record so that other genealogists can find the record or document. The genealogist may also explain the thought process used to come to a conclusion about the reliability of the historical document or record. Once a document or record has been processed by a genealogist, we refer to that document or record as a source of the genealogist's opinion about the accuracy of the genealogist's compiled family history. 

Here is the citation to the document above:

Shelden, Henry. 1870. Exemplified copy of last will and testament of Henry Shelden: late of the city of Brooklyn, deceased, and of the probate thereof, made under act of Congress of the 26th, May, 1780. 4 May 2022.

Finding these genealogically significant documents, analyzing the information contained in the documents and then recording that information in way that can enhance the abilities of others to also view the documents in context, are all part of the core work of being a genealogist. Accuracy and persistence are absolutely essential to making any progress as a genealogist. 

When any entry lacks a source, this immediately implies inaccuracy and unreliability. But what about personal knowledge or oral history? Both of these are valid sources, and they still require a citation so someone reviewing the entries can tell where the information came from. 

What about books? Well, if the author has footnotes or the equivalent and identifies the historical source, then you should record both the citation and the book. However, it the author simply lists all the information without further source citations, you have to discount the accuracy and if you decided to include any of the information you would cite the book as the source. 

If you want a complete explanation of citations, you can refer to the following book. 

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. 2007. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co.

You don't have to worry about genealogy books going out of date unless they are written about some technological subject such as online resources or DNA.

Of course, discovering genealogically relevant documents and records is the initial and most time consuming part of genealogical research and it is obvious, once the records or documents are finally discovered, they need to be searched. By the way, it is unwise to rely solely upon online resources. Granted, there is a lot of information online, but there is still a huge number of records waiting to be digitized, indexed, and/or cataloged. 

To summarize, if you add any information to the FamilySearch Family Tree (excluding correcting existent information) you need to add a source with a citation to where that source can be found. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

When will the FamilySearch Family Tree be finished?

The simple answer to the question of when the Family Tree will be "finished" is never as long as technology continues to advance, and people continue to be born. A more realistic question involves setting some arbitrary goal for the Family Tree and then declaring that it is finished. I also guess that yet another question could revolve around the proposition that the current Family Tree will be replaced by some other program just as happened with In that case, the present form of the Family Tree could be considered to be finished because it would disappear. 

Presently, the Family Tree contains entries for about 1.4 billion people (not taking allowance for duplicates). It is estimated that 117 billion people have lived on the earth. See "How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?" Obviously, a very high percentage of those people died without any record of their lives. However, the current population of the earth is about 7.7 billion people so we can see that the number of people in the Family Tree, that is mainly dead people, is far from complete. 

What do we mean by finished? Will the Family Tree program itself ever be finished? As I have already mentioned, technology continues to change and as technology changes so will computer programs and websites such as

My conclusion is that you should not hold your breath waiting for the Family Tree to be complete. But this is a very good reason for getting involved and doing family history research. 


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Goldie May Subway Map now works with

Goldie May's timeline tool, called the Subway Map, now works with Ancestry. You can watch the short demo above to see how this works. You can also view all of the current and future videos from on the Goldie May YouTube Channel. See

New videos are being posted regularly, including the new Live & Unrehearsed Genealogy Research series.