Online Trees Are Clues–Clues–Not Gospel

A tree can have issues even if one leaf looks good.

I will be honest. When I’m stuck on a person or family and am seeming to make no headway, I will look and see if their name appears in any of the online trees on the various sites. Submitted trees are only as accurate as the compiler, the information they used, and their research methodology. Some compilers are careful about their research and others are not.

However, when using these trees, I:

  • never copy the information into my tree-ever;
  • search the tree for sources (besides other trees);
  • use the dates/places/relationships given to suggest sources that might confirm that information;
  • remember the conclusions could be invalid and only spend so much time trying to confirm them;
  • try and contact the submitter;
  • never copy the information into my tree-ever (that’s worth including twice).
Compiled trees can be inaccurate, just like published books. I continue to use books carefully and treat the trees the same way.
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12 thoughts on “Online Trees Are Clues–Clues–Not Gospel

  1. Kathie Johnston

    I agree completely. Have found many sources on other folks trees that turned out to be helpful, as well as names of spouses, children, etc. that I then researched and was able to confirm. And then there are all the “facts” that include women giving birth before they were born, or someone married to three people at the same time (and they weren’t polygamists) or married to persons who died well before the supposed marriage date! Have also made some friends by contacting folks whose trees have puzzled or helped me.

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  2. Linda Glover

    The trees used to be more accurate than they are today. Yes, there were always errors, but they were “logical” errors. Used to if I looked at a tree with a dozen sources, they were good sources. Today, there is a frenzy to collect trees. A dozen sources now means a dozen different trees–all probably copied from the same original. There are children born after parents died, etc. I saw one this week where the ancestor was listed as fighting in the American Revolution. It had wonderful copies of his military records. The only problem was that they hadn’t read the part where he died in 1777, written very clearly on the military record, before any of the children were born.

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  3. Tracy L Meyers

    Great advice, but I’d add this goes for published trees . . . ANYWHERE . . . online or off. It also goes for Family stories; County / town histories, etc. NOTHING should be take as gospel or at face value without researching and locating the documentation to review and determine for ourselves.

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  4. Judy Kurtz

    I could not agree more! I always look to see what sources they are using…and sometimes they have something I had missed. But someone I know just attaches anything and everything to her tree that has a name she is researching and says she’ll “sort it out later.” If another tree has a list of children’s names, I copy them and research them; if they pan out, great! If I can’t find anything to confirm their existence, I don’t add them to my tree. I really really want my tree to be right!!

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  5. Kristen Sammarco

    I cannot stress your advice enough! I found someone had put my grandmother in their tree! This person used my pictures and my stories from growing up. I contacted said person, explained that she had my Gram in her tree with parents that were not hers….this person said she was told she was right and proceeded to block me. Meanwhile, I now find that my Gram shows up in several other member trees in families she does not belong to, with pictures that I took with my own Kodachrome camera back in the 70s! Never will I ever accept anyone else’s tree as truth… I will accept their trees as guidance, hints, ideas, nudges… yes… but for facts? never….

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  6. Sherry Darnell

    The recent attraction to genealogy is amazing.
    One thing I have found over the years is “nothing is ALWAYS factual”.
    I can’t tell you how many legal, recorded documents have errors.
    You have to remember that there are many ways this can happen. A few are:
    1. Interputation and Spelling. Census are a good example of this. Immigrants came over with their own “language accents”. Most immigrants couldn’t speak English. Census takers had to rely on someone who could speak English or spell names as they interrupted or sounded to them. Some census takers were more deligent in asking how names were spelt; others weren’t.
    2. Emotions and the Informant.
    Death and birth certificates are examples here. I have seen many death certificates with conflicting information from other “legal recorded sources” that do not match. It could be the spelling of a name, the wrong birth date, wrong parents and wrong parents last names. A first hand experience happened when my own mother died last Thanksgiving and I was
    asked where my mother was born. It took me a minute to think then when I gave the city, I realized I had given my fathers city. Births can be the same with spellings of the person writing it isn’t the actual parents.
    3. Newspaper Obituarys and tombstones
    Even Social Security and Miliyary records.
    How many of you have seen a conflicting month or year on a tombstone and it’s very knowledgeable that many men lied on their military records to get in at an earlier age.

    Trees will NEVER be accurate. And when you come to grips with that, it’s then your job to compile as much collaborate
    information to grow your own tree.
    Question everything, investigate all family members and cousins, look at neighbors, movement of families and try “piecing together” that person which includes looking at other trees to see what makes “sense” before you add.

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  7. Diana Ware

    Sometimes names have been collected and added as children and they aren’t even related, just the same last name.
    I found a tree many years ago that had my father-in-law married to his mother! When I contacted the person they informed me that they had posted it for an aunt and couldn’t do anything about it. I have wondered how many people have copied and kept this incorrect information.

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    1. toni

      I have one of those, too. So yes, our family history will be copied and recopied wrong over and over. The 20 trees with the wrong information will outweigh my one tree with the right information.

      Reply
  8. Owain

    I have used these online trees many, many times. I always check the sources though before I enter anything of value into my own tree.

    I have seen some glaring mistakes in these trees. People see their ancestors names in censuses and believe that they are a relative. They have the same name, but their listed with a different family and probably in a different town.

    I think these people are so keen when they find a record and just assume that they are relatives.

    Reply

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