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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What is your response to bad data added to Family Tree?

If you are thinking of working on FamilySearch's Family Tree program or are already entering sources and data, you probably need to think through how you will handle other people adding spurious or outright wrong data to your ancestors' records. Even though I had thought this through, I was confronted with the addition of blatant wrong information just in the last few days.

A few introductory words are in order about the nature of my "genealogical research." I have had very active genealogists on several of my family lines. I may have mentioned before that I am aware of almost a dozen surname and descendents books written about various family lines. Except for a few inaccuracies handed down from generation to generation, for at least six generations back on all of my family lines, the information on almost every individual is extensive and not controverted. There is really no disagreement about births, deaths, marriages or any other data. Except for a few refinements, I established a file with all of the pertinent data many years ago and so most of the online data about my family came from my files originally.

Now, we have the new age. The age of finding accurate original source information about the families. I am well into the task of accumulating source information and digitizing records. Enter Family Tree. For the first time, I have a way to accurately portray my entire family in one place with virtually unlimited and universal access. I certainly know that Family Tree will not provide a way to record all of the information about my family, although that may happen in the future. But it is the most accessible and best system I have yet seen. Almost all of the other online family tree programs rely on individual submissions of duplicate family tree information. FamilySearch Family Tree is designed to produce one entry per person.

So, now, what do I do when someone enters inaccurate information. In this case, the information is not subject to interpretation or "honest" disagreement. The recent addition was to an individual who is extremely well documented and although there are some issues with the way to display his name, almost nothing about this individual is at all subject to personal opinion.

The change was made to the name of my Great-great-grandfather, Charles Godfrey Jarvis (born Defriez or DeFriez). His birth date in England is documented. His employment and history are well known to the family and his date of arrival in the United States is documented and almost everything else about his life is well known and recorded in published books that are generally available.

So why would someone change his name to something different than that recorded in literally dozens of primary source documents? Who knows? The real issue is what is the appropriate response?

My response was as follows:
Thanks for your interest in Charles Godfrey Defriez Jarvis. Please take time to read the source records for this individual on FamilySearch's Family Tree program. If you make changes to the file, please provide primary source records. Let me know if you have any questions.
James Tanner
 In addition, I added in all of the source citations documenting his birth, death and residences. I also provided a link to his life history that was readily available online.

I suggest that this is one appropriate way to respond to the addition of inaccurate information. Give the person a chance to read and digest the supporting information for the individual. If there is a legitimate disagreement, then compromise by adding in all contradictory or contested information and allow the community the option of providing more specific proof of the correct information.

What do you think? Is this an appropriate response? Would you handle things differently?

By the way, Charles Jarvis was born Charles Godfrey Defriez in England. When he married my Great-great-grandmother, he took her name, Jarvis, instead of retaining his birth name. He later changed his name officially to Jarvis, so all of his children are surnamed Jarvis. 


  1. I think your response is appropriate and probably "too nice" overall, but I understand that you want the person to collaborate with you to find the right information for the right people.

    Most likely, you provided the person with much more source information than they previously had or knew about. It is, of course, an opportunity to add information about cousins to your family tree.

  2. Sounds reasonable to me. I look forward to hearing how this played out. Did the reasonable approach lead to a reasonable discussion?

  3. I would consider your response as very well thought out and should give no offense, on the contrary I would hope that the recipient would consider your information and at least contact you about making corrections. I have added corrections on Rootsweb and generally try to phrase it in about the same tone.

  4. I would love to have a chance! I've never been allowed on the site although I have been a registered user of Family Search for many years. I even tried setting up a new account. All I'm ever told is that "my account to New Family Search" isn't ready yet. As you can imagine, I'm furious. Any emails I've sent to them have gone unanswered.

  5. I agree that your message was civilized and helpful. Since persons making additions or changes often are copying from existing trees, I sometimes add a bit of history for a specific item (e.g., author/title/date), explaining where the author obtained or concluded the datum, if known, and that the author had not found the following documents (cited and described). Since many contemporary persons are not accustomed to considering how they "know" something, it can be helpful to show that tree errors often have a history.

  6. I agree with the other responders. This is a polite, well thought out response.