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 and find EVIDENCE to support theories.

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 exciting and saves a great deal of time.... as long as they are your relatives!

I have a number of public family trees 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, and establish beyond doubt that I have the correct people on my tree, I am confident that these people really are my relatives. As novice family historians we have all made mistakes but the most significant genealogy hint I have learned over the years is how important it is to check sources and establish evidence 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 a large portion of my family, including myself, sitting brazenly on a branch of someone else's tree. After some careful investigation, I discovered that an amazing coincidence along with careless research 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 county in England, who both married a man of the same name. Incredibly, both Elizabeth Turners wed a William Shulver and 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 more careful investigation and a search for evidence to support a find. My Elizabeth Turner was known as Elizabeth Jane Turner and the as Elizabeth. On each of our trees our Elizabeths had different parents so from Elizabeth backward the trees are different. Without checking the marriage certificate to find the parents of the bride and groom, another ancestry member had found my tree and assumed that my Elizabeth Turner and William Shulver were her own ancestors. With not genealogical proof we were adopted and my ancestors and relatives, photographs and all, were added to an unrelated and 'instantly expanded' tree.

I searched for the correct marriage for the other Elizabeth Turner and William Shelver and easily found it. I then emailed the other family history researcher to let her know that she had added the wrong family to her tree. Fortunately, because I was able to provide this lady with the correct information about her Elizabeth and William, and I had pointed her in the right direction, she immediately corrected her tree.

Not so with another researcher, however, who also 'popped' my family onto her completely unrelated 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. She went on to claim that 'You are the only tree that isn't the same.'" I checked and sure enough I found that a lot of 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 not meant to be on their branches - none of them had sources to back up their information. So, on that particular wrong tree, I am still hanging from the branch like an orange on an apple tree. I have ben unable to unable to convince anyone that I do not belong there despite my tree being well sourced. 

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 (also 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 lived there for all of her life, abiding  with her daughter and son-in-law in Nottinghamshire at the time of the 1851 census aged 65 years. The other Mary Ann, ( according to the other tree) had died in Middlesex, London in 1852 where her family and she had lived for generations.

 It is purely a co-incidence that both Mary Ann Taylors, daughters of John Taylors both married a James Berry, but the one did so 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 Mary Ann Taylor and James Berry married in Middlesex were born in Middlesex, London. The chldren of my Mary Ann Taylor and James Berry, married in Nottinghamshire were born in Nottinghamshire. Despite available evidence, an entire branch of my family from 1786 forward has been added to someone else's tree and I now have a 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 both myself and another relative can convince the tree owner that we are unrelated. I am not complaining (too much) though, as my 'adopted' family in America has a colourful family history and some very old and wonderful ancestral photographs - it's just not MY family's history and the photographs, beautiful as they are, are not of MY ancestors. Mind you I can't say I haven't been tempted to adopt such a colourful family. It is just a wee bit difficult  to explain how my ancesors got to America without ever leaving Nottinghamshire, 

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