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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Click and Claim -- the genealogy video game

In a comment to my last post, Karen of Genealogy Frame of Mind named the activity of gathering ancestors from online databases as "Click and Claim." I like this designation. It summarizes the video game-like activity of going online and copying names down into a local database without any discrimination as to the accuracy of the information and without even knowing the identity of the individuals being added to the local file. Here is one example of information that is contained in many online databases and dozens of files (not mine, by the way).

One of my Grandfathers was killed in a truck/train accident in 1944 before I was born. The accident occurred in New Mexico, but he resided in Arizona. I had never seen a death certificate and, of course, there was no Arizona Death Certificate. Although the story had been told to me all my life about his death and although I did not doubt the accuracy of the account, I still had the nagging issue of providing documentation to my file.

This is the situation. Even if you "know" from your own personal knowledge the facts about your family, you cannot rely on your own memory. Why, you may ask? Because you are going to die and those that come after you will not have your memory. It is absolutely important that the video game be stopped, that accurate sourced information be passed on to the next generation (whether they want it or not). Relying on passed down, unsubstantiated, rumor or fable is not acceptable.

OK, back to the death certificate. According to the story told to me and to entries made on Family Group Records from my parents, my Grandfather died in Grants, New Mexico.  No county was ever identified. So, I went to the Internet and found out the county where Grants is located. Guess what? Grants, New Mexico is the county seat of Cibola County. So I began the process of searching for a death certificate in Cibola County. No luck. Why? Because Cibola County is New Mexico's newest county, formed in 1981 from the western portion of the much larger Valencia County. Then I was able to find the death certificate.  Job done.

Why this example? Because there are three areas where the information provided to me could have been inaccurate. It did turn out, in my case, that my Grandfather was killed outside of Grants, New Mexico in 1944. But it could have just as easily come out differently. The research here was neither difficult nor time consuming, but if this event had occurred back in the 1800s or even earlier in some other state, the death record could have been impossible to find. The oral tradition would have given no clue as to the actual location of the death record, if one existed. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED TO ME BY THE FAMILY TRADITION AND CONTAINED IN ONLINE SOURCES, WAS ACCURATE BUT MISLEADING. It was not misleading by anything my parents said or did not say, but became misleading by subsequent events.

This scenario is only one example of how the information online contained in unsubstantiated databases can be pernicious and misleading. So think before you click. Genealogy is not a game, it is a serious pursuit of historical accuracy.


  1. Hello James, I completely agree with you. 'Click and claim' is one of the reasons I strongly dislike, and will never sign up for, sites such as With all of their promotions and adverts they make it appear as though people can find accurate information in the family trees of others. I'm the 'Doubting Thomasina' of online sources; if I don't see the original document, I don't believe it. Cheers! Irisheyes.

  2. While I agree with your statements, and basically agree with IrishEyes, I also use One must use it wisely and judiciously. Finding scans of original documents on the site, with the source citations given, I can then obtain my own copies of these original documents. Sure, there are those who copy off my information without regard to sourcing, and I find my information repeated back in the notifications represented by the little leaves. I tend to ignore most of what comes in on those little leaves, because it is of limited usefulness, at best, most of the time. However, access to the images of original documents is a great help to me. Using any source unwisely is possible. It is not the source (in this case, and other electronic databases) that is at fault, it is in our use of the source (notwithstanding that their advertisements oversimplify and consist largely in hype and hyperbole).

  3. Very much agree!! I have documented (and DNA) proof that my 7th G-Grandfather Lt. Brian Hall of Bristol County, MA & RI is NOT related to George Hall, one of the founders of Taunton, MA. The unsourced genealogy "Halls of New England" got it wrong! Yet there are no less than 15 unsourced trees that make this connection...

    I email the creator whenever I make this mistake - but nothing changes.... I am sure the misinformation will continue to be passed on for the next 300 years. Sad.