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

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Do Your Own Research!

I have become more and more disturbed lately by the easily debunked drivel that is posted on social networking websites. People that I have known for many years have posted memes and articles that are easily shown to be false and tragically misleading. Many of these people have been in my genealogical community circles for a considerable time. I generally avoid as much political and social controversy as I can but some issues lately have reached a level that I can no longer remain totally silent. 

Unfortunately, I find the same lack of research and awareness of obviously false information to be endemic in online family trees. One case recently involved a posting of a father in a family when it was obvious that the dates for the birth and death of the father meant he was born after the child died. When I removed the father from the family and sent a note to the user who posted the information explaining the problem. I received no response except to have the same information posted again. This is a common occurrence. 

You may be aware that I post my blog articles on social media. Sometimes, I spend a few minutes scanning the posts for contributions from my own children and past friends and a few relatives. I usually get so upset after a few minutes, I quit looking. I often wonder if some of the people who post on Facebook were the same people I used to know in person. I guess I didn't know them very well. It rather strange to me that my genealogist friends who would immediately detect an inaccurate family issue on the Family Tree, cannot seem to do the modicum of research necessary to identify a blatantly false "news" article and often, without stating any basis at all for their opinion, they parrot a "fake news" response to a fact-based article. 

Fortunately, those of us who are online can readily determine the accuracy of almost all of the "conspiracy theories" and real fake news stories if we are willing to spend some time researching the issues. Sometimes, those posting blatantly inaccurate information on social networking websites are offended when those of us willing to do some research try to respond online. Unfortunately, the same thing also happens regularly with information in the FamilySearch Family Tree.

Some might say we are obsessive about accuracy and researching original source information but that goes with the territory of working with genealogical information especially when the information in an online family tree such as the FamilySearch Family Tree is a conglomeration of over a hundred years of valid research sprinkled with unsupported traditions, intentional fabrications, and mostly inadvertent inaccuracy. Most of these issues would disappear except for two dominant practices: entering information without reading all of the sources and viewing all of the memories and adding information without any source at all. These could be phrased as follows for social networking: sharing information without reading the item and then verifying the claims (looking at the sources) and simply sharing a meme or article without thinking about what it actually claims and verifying the information. 

Now the question. Which of these dominant practices are you seeing on family trees or social media or are you seeing both?


  1. I agree totally. In the family history field, I have worked hard to develop patience. More now than ever I just ignore some things people say or do. I am not going to change them, so I guess i just cave. My wife on the other hand loses sleep each night worrying about something she has no control over, or something someone said. I believe her health is affected by it.

  2. James, it is good to hear you are feeling discouraged too. Both by trying to speak the truth and by trying to stop errors, some deliberate in Family Tree. Yesterday I removed for the 24th time an undocumented link to an unproven, and probably impossible family. I have grown to hate Relative Finder, because it shows the bad pedigree has been restored. I have protested to FamilySearch Help. Their response made me the problem for complaining about the deliberately harassing behavior of one individual. Posting NY immigration records for a woman who was having children in Ohio, changing people's names to "1". Adding children as ?+2.
    Your blog brings up the question: When do you draw the line and say this is too much? When do you say, You have become such and unpleasant post on social media that you are destroying family and friend's relationships?
    As a lawyer you know, the law is there to say if you choose this, these will be the consequences. We do not want to be judgmental, but can we be a society that can ask that visiting Social Media is a joyful exchange with friends and family, who are the real jewels of society?
    Thanks for your many insightful thoughts. Keep sharing.
    Marilyn Thomsen

  3. I think people have some political views that have been ingrained in their brains as values, and whenever that "value" appears to be threatened, they dig their trench and battle to the death rather than accept that they might be wrong or there may be nuance. As you know, I've been struggling with this problem with my own family, and recently I've had to stop reading the emails because the stress just got to be too much.

    I think a similar effect probably happens with family history. We grow up hearing the family legends about the Indian princess/bodyguard to the famous person/royal ancestor, and it's something we start to value, so our brains rebel when we're presented with evidence that it was all wrong.

    Sadly, I think the solution lies with individual people being willing to do the thought work to break down false beliefs and putting in the work to keep learning so that they're better thinkers. And that doesn't happen until they're ready. It can be fairly uncomfortable. It's not something we can force on somebody. Agency is inconvenient sometimes. :/

  4. You are so right James. Well written. My philosophy is, don't believe anything until you either hear it from the horse's mouth or research it ourself. So easy to be sucked in.

  5. I concur James. I note so many family search family tree genealogy's have blatant errors in them. Children get put into families they obviously they don't belong to. A little research confirms the errors. Don't trust postings until you confirm them.

  6. Thanks to all for your comments. It is nice to know people read my thoughts.