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

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Understanding Jurisdictions for Genealogists

Understanding Jurisdictions for Genealogists is one of several of my videos that have been published in the last two weeks. As you may have guessed or observed, the number of my posts to Genealogy's Star has decreased. This is entirely due to the increase in my video presentations that now are running at least two or three a week. Here are links to some posted in the last two weeks. 

Introduction to the Canon Image Formula DR G1130 (Sheet Feed Scanner)

Using Your Smartphone for Genealogy: an Update

Introduction To The Epson Perfection V750 Pro Scanner

3. Case Studies Live On Air - James Tanner

Introduction to the Plustek OpticBook A300 Plus Scanner - James Tanner

Unrehearsed Genealogy Research #20: Using land records for ancestor in the South

Unrehearsed Genealogy Research #19: Confirming family in 19th-century England

Stay tuned, I will have at least two more this week, not including the ones listed above. 

How do we determine the accuracy of the Family Tree

Ever since the Family Tree was released, there have been questions about its accuracy. These concerns were based, in part, on the wiki structure and operation of the website. For a number of years, there was a controversy, which probably continues today, about the accuracy of Wikipedia in particular and other wikis generally. Here is a link to an article from about reliability. "Wikipedia:Wikipedia is not a reliable source." Here is one interesting quote from the article.

Articles are only as good as the editors who have been editing them—their interests, education, and background—and the efforts they have put into a particular topic or article. Since we try to avoid original research, a particular article may only be as good as (a) the available and discovered reliable sources, and (b) the subject may allow.

Hmm. If you know anything about the accuracy controversy surrounding the Family Tree, you may recognize that this statement certainly applies to the Family Tree as well as to the vast Wikipedia.  Essentially, any entry on either website without a reliable source is fundamentally unreliable. Here is just one example from perhaps millions of entries that do not have any source information on the Family Tree. 

On the other hand, millions of sources are being added to the Family Tree yearly and according to FamilySearch there are over 2.34 billion sources already attached to the individuals in the Family Tree. 

One possible indicator of the accuracy of the Family Tree could be the percentage of people who are added to the Family Tree each day, week, or year without sources as opposed to entries made with at least one source and a percentage of the total number of new entries each year. Unfortunately, telling us the total number of sources doesn't answer that question. From my own experience, some of the individuals in my part of the Family Tree have more than a hundred supporting sources, while as the example above illustrates, there are a large number of people with no sources (finding an entry without a source is extremely easy.) 

I think that making statements about the overall reliability of the Family Tree are not helpful. Vast parts of the Family Tree have been extensively documented and are as reliable as any historical record can be. The one caveat to this conclusion is the reality that even totally reliable and sourced entries are not immune to senseless change by someone who has not reviewed the existing sources and adds none of their own. Therefore, the reliability of the Family Tree is swallowed up by its unpredictability. Even though I have an entry (a person) in the Family Tree whose information is completely supported by reliable sources, the person's entry could be changed anytime by someone who doesn't even bother to read the existing sources to determine if the entry accurately reflects the content of the sources provided. 

Wikipedia is a monitored wiki. That means that the Wikipedia staff and volunteers are constantly watching for changes and giving notice of an entry that is not substantiated. See Wikipedia:Core content policies. Core content policies for the Family Tree do not exist. In fact, part of the core content of the Family Tree is diametrically opposite those of Wikipedia. Here is what Wikipedia says about original research. 

No original research (WP:NOR) – Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.

You don't have to look very far to find information in the Family Tree that contains a new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources. See all the changes made to the Mayflower passengers for a real-time example. 

Could the Family Tree become accurate? Probably, if there were some core content policies and there was some way of monitoring and enforcing those policies. The overriding question is whether or not core content policies will ever be adopted or enforced or even considered.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Another New Rule of Genealogy

 Rule Number Fifteen of the Rules of Genealogy: Germany in 1864 is not a place.

Well, obvious, you might say, but do U.S. Census records lie? I guess so because if you go to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, you can see a lot of people from a place that doesn't exist. Just for the record. Here is a quote to help with the issue. 
Until 1871, Germany had been divided into dozens of small states. This was the old Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, which had existed for 900 years when it finally collapsed under Napoleonic pressure. This was also known as the old Reich, or the First Reich (Reich is the German term for empire). See:,the%20German%20term%20for%20empire). 

This Rule is about accurately recording the place that events occurred as it was known at the time.  

Friday, August 5, 2022

Universal vs Private Family Trees: Pros and Cons


This is a blog post spoiler. When you weigh the pros and cons of universal family trees against those of private family trees, the universal tree always wins. By no means, am I undertaking to compare individual programs, the issues I see of overriding importance duplication of effort and preservation. As I have written many times previously, if you privatize your genealogical research you are almost certainly insuring its loss. I have never been able to understand how ownership became an issue with genealogical research. The reason why I come back to this topic from time to time is usually based on someone telling me why they can't share their research or their pedigree or whatever. See

Here is the list of reasons why a universal family tree, despite their inherent failings will always be a better idea that a closed, private family tree. I'll start off with private family trees.

Pros of a private family tree

1. The person who "owns" the private family tree is totally responsible and answerable for its content. 

2. All changes are predictable because only one person (or a very small number of people) can make any changes. 

3. The owner of the private tree does not have to answer to anyone about the content or accuracy of the incorporated information. 

Cons of a private family tree

1. There is a very high probability that when the owner dies, the information contained in the family tree will be lost. 

2. If the private family tree is not lost, it is also probable that anyone who inherits the information will consider it to be the Truth about the family and any errors will be perpetuated for many more generations. 

3. Because a private family tree is not, by design, cooperative, it is also possible that the information found and incorporated by the owner is incomplete and may also be inaccurate.  I make this comment because of the many times my own entries in public family trees have been corrected or added to. 

Pros of a universal, cooperative, source-supported family tree

1. Duplication of effort is minimized with all the information available to all users. 

2. Open wiki-based websites have a tendency to become more accurate over time because any information entered can be verified or changed by any user. 

3. A cooperative family tree can ultimately contain more information than any privately maintained family tree. 

4. Depending on the sponsor, information is preserved even when a user dies. 

Cons of a universal, cooperative, source-supported family tree

1. Users' frustration level is high because of claims to ownership of genealogical information. 

2. Specific changes can be arbitrary and inaccurate because of differing levels of expertise. 

3.  Resolution of real historical controversies is difficult because of the universal nature of the venue.

The solution to deciding between a private and a public universal family tree is mainly resolved by individuals using both venues. If a genealogist wishes to make their information private, they should take steps to prevent loss of their work after death. 

By the way, dead people very limited post-mortem privacy. See Post-mortem privacy for a start.

Despite any perceived or real shortcomings of universal, cooperative, source-supported family trees, I am strong advocate for their use, including the Family Tree,, and

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Unrehearsed Genealogy Research #19: Confirming family in 19th-century England

As I have written recently, most of my work is now in producing videos. Here is the latest Goldie May Unrehearsed Genealogy Research #19: Confirming family in 19th-century England

James & Richard look at an ancestor in 19th-century England, analyzing existing records to confirm what's present on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

0:00 Intro 0:42 Looking at an English ancestor 1:05 Birth record in 19th century England? Christening records were more common. 2:37 Purposely following same procedure in our research 4:15 Mapping the locations 5:28 Google Maps Street View 7:50 The 1841 census image 11:57 Birth date confirmed 12:23 English church records can come from multiple levels/jurisdictions 13:18 Beware common names in England 15:55 Someone with apprentice and servants had some financial means 18:05 Possible duplicate 20:40 Open a 2nd copy of FamilySearch to compare records to sources 24:05 Which records support the birth date? 26:20 Sibling could have similar birth record on Ancestry 28:15 Conclusion: Always check locations, beware common names, use the entire record