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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mary, b. Ohio abt 1850? Where does this stuff come from?

Online user submitted family trees are full of cryptic references to individuals without a full name, with no specific birth date and with a totally worthless birth (or other event) date. Why? Why do people feel compelled to share their unsupported speculations with the entire genealogical community? OK, before you dig into one of my own online family trees and show me that I am just a guilty as the rest of the folks out there, let me explain my concern.

The real issue here is providing a source for the record, not the paucity of the record itself. For females, the inability to find a maiden surname is not unusual. In some instances, finding a surname for a female ancestor can be one of the most difficult challenges of genealogical research. The main problem is publicizing the problem out there in the online world without giving the rest of us a chance to resolve the difficulty. I mean by that, including where and when you got the information to give the rest of us a chance at resolving the issue.

How many of us have a string of father-son ancestors without any wives' names or any other children listed? How useful is that? Not much, especially if there is no documentation showing where this stream of male relatives got their identities.

The principle here is to concentrate your research on what you do know, until what you do not know is painfully evident. Too many researchers jump back in time when they have no real understanding or basis for the conclusions they have in generations they skip. It may seem mundane, but you need to start with your parents and work back systematically. It is a joy to behold a well documented family when there is an adequate basis for each of the people included.

This post comes about as a result of my most recent encounters with the information in FamilySearch's Family Tree program. The scary thing about the information is that I submitted most of it myself. I am really preaching to myself in this particular post. Whatever its limitations, FamilySearch's Family Tree promises the best solution for the jumbled mess that has accumulated in online family trees over the years. But I cannot tell you how painful it is to confront not only the accumulated rotten submissions of your family but also be confronted with your own woefully inadequate efforts.

1 comment:

  1. 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!