Tuesday, September 14, 2010

'It's a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence.It biases the judgement.' Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930

Don't put your ancestors on the wrong tree....

1.Beware family trees on the internet that have no sources.
2.Never assume that a tree you find on the internet is correct.
3.Check to make certain that 'ancestors' you find are really yours!
4.Always source your information.

Public family trees are becoming increasingly popular on the internet. Sites such as Ancestry.com provide a facility for members to 'grow' their family trees and to connect with other members who are researching the same ancestors. This, in theory, is a wonderfully innovative idea. Instantly finding relatives is very exciting and saves a great deal of time.... as long as they are your relatives!

I have a number of my family trees placed publicly on Ancestry.com and have connected with relatives from all over the world. I have even found some cousins almost in my own backyard, who I did not previously know existed. Because I always check my sources carefully, I am confident that these people really are my relatives. It is so important to check sources before adding ancestors to your family tree. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the time or the trouble to do this.

I recently logged into Ancestry.com where I have a number of public family trees. To my surprise, I found an entire branch of my family, including myself, sitting on someone else's tree. After some careful scrutiny, I discovered that an amazing coincidence along with a lack of careful investigation had mislead another researcher to 'claim' my ancestors as her own. We both had an ancestor named Elizabeth Turner, born in the same year and in the same town in England, and who both married a man of the same name. Incredibly, both Elizabeth Turners wed a William Shulver. Even more remarkably, the two couples married in the same year! It was easy to see how the mistake had been made, however, it was a mistake that could have been avoided with less haste and more careful investigation. My Elizabeth Turner was known as Elizabeth Jane Turner and hers just as Elizabeth. On each of our trees our Elizabeths had different parents. Without checking the marriage certificate to find the parents of the bride and groom, another ancestry member had found my tree and obviously assumed my Elizabeth Turner and William Shulver to be her own ancestors. And just like that, we were adopted and all of my relatives, photographs and all, were added to an unrelated and 'instantly grown' tree.

I searched for the correct marriage for the other Elizabeth and William (and found it) and then emailed the researcher to let her know that she had added the wrong family to her tree. Fortunately, because I was able to provide this kind lady with the correct information about her Elizabeth and William, and t point her in the right direction, she immediately corrected her tree. Not so with another researcher, however, who also 'popped' my family onto her tree. When I emailed the second person, I received a curt reply, informing me that 'there are more trees on the internet that have the same information as me, so I am leaving the tree as it is.You are the only tree that isn't the same.' I checked and sure enough I found that quite a few people had copied the same incorrect information onto their trees. All of these family trees had something in common - apart from the fact that my family was incorrectly on their branches - none of them had any sources to back up their information. So, I am still hanging from the branch of someone else's tree like an orange on an apple tree, unable to convince anyone that I do not belong there.

Once again, the mistake was easy to find and could have been avoided. On my tree, I had a Mary Ann Taylor (father John Taylor) who married a James Berry in Newark, Nottinghamshire. My Mary Ann, according to birth and census records was born in 1786 in Farndon, Nottinghamshire. On the other tree there was also a Mary Ann Taylor (father John Taylor) born in the same year but with no birth place recorded. The other researcher had found my tree and assumed my Mary Ann and hers, to be the same person. My Mary Ann was married in Nottinghamshire and was still living there with her daughter and son-in-law at the time of the 1851 census aged 65 years. The other Mary Ann died in Middlesex, London in 1852 ( according to the other tree but with no source) where her family had lived for many years. I believe that the other Mary Ann may well have also married a James Berry, but in Middlesex ( I have found the record) in 1807, a year before my Mary Ann married her James Berry in 1808 (in Nottinghamshire). The children from the other marriage were born in Middlesex, London. Mine were born in Nottinghamshire. Despite this, an entire branch of my family from 1786 forward has been placed on someone else's tree and 'we' now have a whole new ancestry, going, impressively, I might add, back to the 1600's in Surrey and Herefordshire. And all that without a forebear leaving Nottinghamshire! It appears that I am to remain on this other tree, as no amount of emailing by myself or another relative can convince this person that we are unrelated. I am not complaining (too much) though, as my 'adopted' family in America has a colourful family history - it's just not MY family's history.

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