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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gathering feathers from the wind

The analogy between gossip, untruth, lies and other undesirable communications has been compared to feathers scattered into the wind. They are impossible to retrieve. The principle is often illustrated in the form of a "folk tale" where a wise man is correcting one who is less wise or inexperienced. I am certain that genealogists and would-be family historians do not intentionally go out of their way to spread undesirable communications, but the the "feathers to the wind" analogy works well with poorly done research reported in online family trees.

I have been working with Family Tree since it was introduced. It has the promise of being a unified family tree program with great potential to quell rumors, gossip, lies and undesirable communication involving genealogy. But the task of retrieving all those "feathers" is almost overwhelming. I mentioned in my other blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad..., that I had been looking at my Mayflower passengers lines. Here are the basics about the Mayflower passengers.

One of the older lineage organizations in the United States, The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, usually called "The Mayflowers Society," was founded in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1897. Membership in the Society is open to the following:
Anyone who arrived in Plymouth as a passenger on the Mayflower is considered a Pilgrim, with no distinction being made on the basis of their original purposes for making the voyage. Proven lineage from a passenger, approved by a Historian General, qualifies one to be a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
 Technically, the "Pilgrims" were not all religiously motivated. The Society describes the group as follows:
The group of 102 passengers who crowded aboard Mayflower for the crossing was not homogenous. Many of the passengers were members of the Leiden congregation, but they were joined by a number of English families or individuals who were hoping to better their life situations, or were seeking financial gain. These two general groups have sometimes been referred to as the "saints" and "strangers". 
Although the Leiden congregation had sent its strongest members with various skills for establishing the new colony, nearly half of the passengers died the first winter of the "great sickness."
All of the survivors have been extremely well documented. I would guess that there has been a huge investment in time and money in the research of this relatively small group of survivors. The information available about the surviving families is very specific and extensively documented. For a list of the passengers who died see Wikipedia:List of Mayflower passengers who died in the winter of 1620-21. Only 57 Pilgrims survived the first winter.

I have visited the Mayflower Society Library in Plymouth, Massachusetts and I am reasonably well acquainted with the extensive research on these families. If you are interested see The Plymouth Colony Archive Project.

The Mayflower Society has compiled a set of books documenting the descendancy of each of the surviving passengers for five generations. We refer to this set of books as the "Silver Books" because of their silver colored binding. Unfortunately, these books were published at different times and different editions and it is difficult to get a complete citation for the entire set. Here are citations to the books about one of my ancestors for an example:

Wakefield, Robert S., and Ralph V. Wood. Francis Cooke of the Mayflower and His Descendants for Four Generations. Plymouth, MA (4 Winslow St., Plymouth 02361): General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1987.

Wood, Ralph V. Francis Cooke of the Mayflower: The First Five Generations. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1996.

Now, contrary to most "surname books" these particular books are extensively documented and sourced. Any changes to the research because of "new discoveries" is generally reported in the American Genealogist  or the Mayflower Society publications. There are other societies and organizations involved in this particular area of research.

Now, here is the point. Family Tree shows the chaotic mess that the thousands of unexperienced, careless, and I must say perverse researchers have made of the rather simple task of ascertaining the identity and lineage of the Mayflower passengers and descendants. One example is Philip Taber who married Mary Cooke, the daughter of Mayflower passenger John Cooke and his wife Sarah Warren, the daughter of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. Presently, Family Tree shows 21 duplicates and separate "marriages" for Philip Taber. The program refuses to show the correct information, even if I mark it preferred. There are a multitude of duplicates for Mary Cooke and at least five duplicates showing for her grandfather Francis Cooke. In fact, John Cooke is shown as his own father. Remember, this is all documented extensively in the Silver Books and elsewhere. 

Is there really anyway to reconcile and untangle this mess? As I have indicated, there is no controversy about the facts. All of these differing "opinions" in Family Tree are entirely lacking sources. No one thought to look at the Silver Books and obtain documented information. As yet, I cannot reconcile this mess because the program will not recognize merges and people keep changing the information faster than I can put it into the program. 

There may come a day when we can see our way to gathering the feathers, but is still a long way off. 


  1. Hi James, the only way that I see to clear up this mess is to push good data to the proper trees yourself, and forget about books and societies. I avoid both at all cost, because most books that I found in libraries are not well sourced, and simply refuse to pay for anything that I can't check beforehand. That goes for societies too.

    Living on the European continent, I have no idea about the specific qualities of the books and societies that you are referring too. I base my comments on the books I have seen here, which are about Dutch families that I research here in The Netherlands, written by known genealogists, but still disappointing for me.

    I try to base what I publish on original research, but where books are expensive, and worse, are outdated the moment they are published, I can imagine that people ignore them, and agree with their decisions to do so. IMO, books and societies are no good way to spread the word in the world of today.

    1. I would normally agree with you about most "surname books" but these books are the "state of the art" about the Mayflower descendants. There is no need to do the work over and certainly no reason to have some much inaccurate posts in Family Tree.

    2. I do understand that, but is the quality of these books in any way visible to potential buyers? I have seen so called 'professional genealogists' publish trees on wikitree, citing a book that on closer inspection (downloaded from FS) provided no direct source at all. That was about Terrels in the US, ancestors of the current president, and I can give some examples for immigrants from The Netherlands too.

      My comment is indeed not about these specific books, which I have never read for my own research, but if the books don't stand out, they may not appeal to newcomers.

      That said, cost may not really be a factor here, because many spend way more than these figures on Ancestry, and happily copy everything that they see there.

      On the FS tree, there are two other factors, I think, and those are that FS put many AF and PRF submissions in the tree, thereby creating duplicates themselves, and uploading persons with a program like Ancestral Quest is sort of anonymous. On sites like Geni and wikitree, discussions about duplicates are way more visible to visitors.

      In the parts of the tree that I work with, I see many submissions by FamilySearch, made about 2 years ago, which before the tree went public, I think. I bet that those are the AF and PRF submissions I mentioned above.

      And indeed, many people are sloppy too, collecting names, and uploading them without proper regard to what we think good research is.

    3. I have used the Silver Books for years and find them to be unassailable. The price doesn't really matter all that much. The represent the best of US genealogy.

  2. Articles in the big 5 American genealogy journals (NGSQ, TAG, The Genealogist, NEHGR, NYGBR) are not outdated as soon as they are published. They make the Internet Trees outdated as soon as the articles appear in print.

    1. I certainly agree. But you can see how the stuff in online trees is contaminating genealogy to a great extent.

    2. But that applies to printed genealogies too, the bad ones, I mean. And when in the US alone, there are 5 big journals, and a couple of smaller ones, I suppose, how can you expect that fellow genealogists read each and every one of them? I am semi retired myself, and already have difficulties following everything in the single big magazine that we have here, in The Netherlands.

      As far as I can see it looks like you both don't realize that most people that frequent FamilySearch don't have the time, nor the funds, to read all magazines and books that you think are relevant. I also think that most people that have a single line connecting them to one person on the Mayflower, or any other ship for that matter, are not likely to buy a book that has lots of information about persons they don't relate to, and maybe very few about the person they are interested in. That happens to me with lots of books that I look at in libraries. And do you read books or magazines from the countries where your ancestors came from yourself? I would then have to read English, French, and German books too, and although I understand all these, time is still lacking, and funds too.

      On-line trees are a reality, and if you like quality as much as I do, I think that the only realistic option is to promote that on-line, in a blog, or on-site, by working on the FS tree itself, and attach excerpts from your books and magazines where appropriate, and allowed by copyright laws. Hiding behind them won't help.

      P.S. I changed my profile name so that you know who you're talking too.

  3. I am simply astonished that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still does not require all entries into Family Tree be preceded by source documentation. Then, immediately, " the chaotic mess that the thousands of [inexperienced], careless, and I must say perverse researchers have made" will revert to an evaluation and review of the documents versus the opinions of the submitters, which can be efficiently done by a cadre of dedicated specialists. It is my opinion that anything short of this makes for creating unholy book(s); for, [Then, let there be a general recorder, to whom these other records can be handed, being attended with certificates over their own signatures, certifying that the record they have made is true. Then the general church recorder can enter the record on the general church book, with the certificates and all the attending witnesses, with his own statement that he verily believes the above statement and records to be true, from his knowledge of the general character and appointment of those men by the church. And when this is done on the general church book, the record shall be just as holy, and shall answer the ordinance just the same as if he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears, and made a record of the same on the general church book.] If the point is not clear enough, a record without a documented source is by its very nature unholy, as it has no witness verification, having no standing in just civil or religious courts. It is insulting to the best interests of legal, professional, academic and administrative organizations and identifies genealogy as a collection of "garbage in, garbage out", data resources. [(GIGO) in the field of computer science or information and communications technology refers to the fact that computers, since they operate by logical processes, will unquestioningly process unintended, even nonsensical, input data ("garbage in") and produce undesired, often nonsensical, output ("garbage out").] Why, in front of the whole world, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so self deprecating?

    This Joke is not humorous and it does not provide tension release.

    ARMA International says: Principle of Integrity
    An information governance program shall be constructed so the records and information generated or managed by or for the organization have a reasonable and suitable guarantee of authenticity and reliability.

    Integrity of a record is directly related to the ability to prove that a record is authentic and unaltered. Authenticity requires proof that a document comes from the person, organization, or other legal entity claiming to be its author or authorizing authority.

    An organization’s executives are ultimately responsible for business records, as they are strategic and operational assets. Family Tree information does not represent Integrity, which essentially questions by its existence, attached LDS Temple Ordinance Work.

    1. That would all be a really good idea of the Church were made up totally of licensed engineers and other professionals. There is a balance between exclusion and inclusion that mandates a certain inclusionary set of procedures. Some of the data in the file is also more than 150 years old and I don't think the ARMA was around back then. Isn't it nice that we get the opportunity of correcting and sourcing the data?

    2. I am well aware of areas in the world that have difficulty with data sources. Nevertheless, if the process is in place, there is no issue for inclusion of statements, such as:
      (1) This is an oral tradition we have in our family.
      (2) This is from our own personal family Bible record.
      (3) This is a 150 year old data file that has no sources.
      (4) I have an "X" on the record for my name because I cannot write. Etc. No member, literate or illiterate is left out.

      The issue at hand is creating the mechanism that does not exclude the licensed engineers and other professionals; yet, this is what the present system does; it destroys the very essence of creating valid Family Trees in the first place, by systematically relegating facts as secondary to fiction (undocumented opinion), as noted so clearly by your own statements over time, such as "As yet, I cannot reconcile this mess because the program will not recognize merges and people keep changing the information faster than I can put it into the program. " So what happens when somebody hateful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes along and creates within Family Tree, the denial of service done to, by flooding the system with spurious data entries? To me, it is a most critical issue to viable Temple Records. If I am not clear enough, the system is ripe for corruption, is totally out of control, and lacks basic ethical justification; i.e., is no better quality wise than general Internet presentations. I think it is nice to have the opportunity to correct and source data; however, documented data entered is not paramount, which puts the cart before the horse and is self destructive.

    3. There is a historical issue here. Source citations have not ever been required. The Ancestral File has some citations but much of the information lacks sources. The present Family Tree program is approaching the point where sources may be required. It is a big step from the past.

    4. It is, and I really appreciate the fact that the Church allows me as a non-LDS FS member to contribute to that too. In other on-line trees, I see that corrections are sometimes discouraged, because they might hurt the feelings of paying members, or members that somehow bring advertising dollars to the site. And I am really thankful that FamilySearch is not like that.

    5. Thanks for your comment. You are right about the distinction between some of the commercial websites and FamilySearch.

  4. Thank you for your kindness in responding to my comments. D&C Section 20, revelation on Church organization and government, which may have been given as early as the summer 1829, states: "64 Each priest, teacher, or deacon, who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling, or he may receive it from a conference." This complete revelation, known at the time as the Articles and Covenants, was likely recorded soon after April 6, 1830 (the day the Church was organized), and provides the historical pattern. I perceive that it is similar to modern signatures electronically delivered to validate commercial transactions, as well as a form of proof that can be related to the current Genealogical Proof Standards; i.e., without the certificate document, there was no license to act in the capacity to which one was ordained. Saying it was so was not enough then (the means), and in my mind, should not be enough now to authorize record submission, no matter how meritorious the ends.
    This is the same as: "Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation." In this day and age, when libraries can easily chat with patrons, I find it inconceivable, not to be able to initiate, worldwide, via local Family History Centers or entities, a robust, comprehensive, and missionary inclusive program that can be immediately implemented, especially inclusive of illiterate populations, where oral histories are a beginning process in communication skills. Since [Two-thirds of the illiterate population is women.], and LDS women are mostly involved in genealogy and family history, their expression of charity to the underprivileged world would be great.

    1. Your point is made. But I would have to disagree about your characterization of the women in genealogy. My experience is that they are much above average well-educated and extremely dedicated and competent. I think what you said about oral histories etc. is a good approach. A citation can be to a source even if that source is not written. The idea of a source is that subsequent researchers don't have to guess where the information came from.

    2. LDS women and women in genealogy research are indeed "much above average well-educated and extremely dedicated and competent." My note of: Since [Two-thirds of the illiterate population is women.], was taken from Global Illiteracy & Global Literacy Statistics, as it applied to the "Speaking Book". I found it informative because "clients are perfectly welcome to provide their own text, artwork and even audio recordings if they feel this will meet their specific requirements." [Re: Oral History discussion] [According to the CIA World Factbook, almost 75% of the world's 775 million illiterate adults are concentrated in ten countries (in descending order: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo). Women represent two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally. . . . Wikipedia]

      I applied this concept to changing the educational system.
      [We feel that women throughout the world needed to be able to read, and there were many who could not. Can you imagine-- if they didn't know how to read, how could they teach their children, how could they improve their circumstances, how could they study the gospel? So we thought that there could be nothing more beneficial than to promote a literacy effort.... But also our purpose was to encourage lifelong learning for every sister.
      --Sister Elaine L. Jack, Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 96]

    3. I see your point. But genealogy does apply and extend to the illiterate.

  5. What I wish they would do is allow associations of that caliber to go in and fix their own entries, even the locked NFS ones, and then clamp them down to read only access. But that's wishful thinking, considering that it would take away one of their forms of income (the Silver Books).

    What I think they need in reality is three fold:
    1. They need to freaking retire the NFS completely. There are SO many bad entries because they are locked from "too long entries" in NFS - probably as many for the Mayflower ancestors as my beloved Dutch ancestors in New York.
    2. There need to be arbitrators for the entries similar to the indexing system. No, arbitration isn't perfect but they can help clear out entries with a dozen marriage dates that are all the same, for example, or clear up simple misspellings in the alternate names. And they can give preference to facts supported by evidence.
    3. There should be no more anonymous people being allowed to enter stuff. Anonymous/FamilySearch/entries with only the user name are not helpful and there is no way to open a dialogue about what could be correct if there is no way to contact the person who is making the changes/errors.

    And if I was speaking of wishlist items, having FamilySearch not constantly add alternate names that are the SAME as the name as submitted would be at the top of my list for relieving annoyance. This kind of maintenance chore to delete all the time drives me bonkers.

    1. I agree about NFS's retirement, but I also understand, to some extent, what FamilySearch is faced with in making that happen. I also understand the reason for the duplicative additions, although it does annoy me also.