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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Learning from our mistakes

I may have mentioned previously that I made my first submission, to what is now known as the Pedigree Resource File, back in 2000. Little did I know back then that this supposedly innocent submission of a GEDCOM file to FamilySearch would come back to haunt me in a really big way. Back in 2000, the file was submitted under the impression that it was for "backup" purposes. Now, many years later, the Pedigree Resource File has become an integral part of's database and has now carried over to's Family Tree program.

The problem is and was, that the file was inaccurate and incomplete. In short, it was a work in progress. Today, I can go onto FamilySearch Family Tree and see some of my own incomplete and inaccurate work. It does me no good, some of the time, to rail against sloppy research and lack of sources, because when I look at where the file came from, I find out it is my submission.

If I had the chance, would I now go back and keep my work to myself until it was ready for public consumption?  Does this mean we all have to be perfectionists and never let anybody see our files until we are sure they are perfect? (I know a few people who live like that, but I certainly don't). Or does it mean that we should never share anything online because it might be less than perfect? No. As Randy Seavers pointed out in a recent comment to one of my posts:
James, I see nothing wrong with an entry for Mary, born about 1850 if that is the information available to the researcher.

In all likelihood, it came from a census record, and the source of the name and information would be the census record (or whatever record it came from).

I much prefer to estimate a birth year, and/or a birth place, than leave it blank. It's a small piece of the puzzle, and usually the first piece, about the identity of Mary the wife of John Doe. Hopefully, other researchers will know her last name, and her birthplace and parents names, and you and they can go on from there giving Mary an ancestry.

I'm still very much a "conclusion-based" researcher and really want something in the "Birth" field to help me with further research. Of course, it helps if the wife's name was Henrietta or Sylvia rather than Mary!
In an ideal genealogical community, some interested researcher would have contacted me and challenged many of my conclusions. Unfortunately, this never happened. In all the years since 2000 when I posted the information, not one person has ever challenged one of my conclusions or complained about the lack of source citations. Except for a few random emails from peoples searching for family members and asking for additional information, I do not recall even one constructive comment about the bad information. (This is really a sad commentary on the state of genealogy in my huge extended family. Not one person has come back to me and challenged any of my information).

But Randy has a point. I could wait forever to publish my files and thereby lose even the possibility of a comment. Sometimes we have to "put it out there" and let the critiques fall where they may. If we are wrong. We are wrong. Correct the information and move on. (The tragedy of online user submitted family trees in the case of my extended family is that the correct information is right there in another tree with the sources and documentation, while many submissions lack even the ability to copy the records properly). As I have said many times before, I don't deal with stupidity or crazy.

All genealogical research is a work in progress. Except for very near relatives, all dates and places and incidents are open to modification based on newly discovered evidence. Repetition does not prove accuracy. Even the most repeated dates and locations may be totally wrong.

Humility is a good trait for genealogists. Many of us, including me, need to learn to accept criticism, not only graciously, but constructively. Learn and grow.

1 comment:

  1. Patience is another good trait for genealogists. You never know when someone will snap up your cousin bait and challenge your assertions. With more people eventually going into FS Family Tree, perhaps your bait will be gobbled, a discussion will be started, and you can find an ancestry for Mary born in 1850.