[APG Public List] Trusting Family Trees WAS: Geni, "breaking family news, " and a test of your skill as a genealogist

Ray Beere Johnson II raybeere at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 2 14:30:09 MST 2010

--- On Thu, 12/2/10, Jeanette Daniels <jeanettedaniels8667 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Much of the really old dates for genealogy come from the old Family 
> Group Sheets that many LDS family organizations paid money to have 
> researched.  Sadly, many of the older genealogists made a good living 
> from gullible LDS families interested in getting their temple work 
> done.  I don't have statistics on how many of these Family Group Sheets 
> are fabricated, but I know the number is extremely high.

     I'm sure there were many that were outright fabricated, but there are many more that were simply the product of very sloppy research. They may be useful as a starting point if nothing else is known, but a careful researcher will never accept the data from any of these without much more research.
     I have an ancestor, James Rosebrook / Roseborough, and I've looked up data derived from those old Family Group Sheets relating to his birth. Most of them make a fairly reasonable guess as to the year he was born - I've personally checked the records which give his age in later years - but they also almost always give a "place of birth" for him.
     Now, as far as I can tell from a reasonably exhaustive search, there is _NO_ record which states his place of birth. The one record which allowed me to _guess_ at where he _might_ have been born (and it is at best an educated guess) is something none of these searchers has ever noticed. As best as I can tell from any of the records I've viewed, some people filled out the town where his _children_ were born as _his_ place of birth, while others just made wild guesses. A few of them seem to have just jabbed their finger at a map of Massachusetts...
     However, the problem is _not_ just the old LDS family group sheets. _Every_ "family tree" that was compiled by anyone with more enthusiasm than knowledge is suspect at best - and every tree created later which uncritically absorbed those trees. (I've seen people who can "prove" they're descended from King Arthur... as someone who is deeply interested in the history and archaeology surrounding the "Matter of Britain", I can assure you, if _anyone_ ever gets enough information on King Arthur's identity to permit anyone today to prove their descent from him, it will make a _huge_ splash. Geoffrey Ashe's _The Discovery of Arthur_, while disputed, was a bombshell, and comes as close as anyone has to identifying Arthur. He makes some intriguing speculations, but never comes close to anything a genealogist would regard as proof when it comes to establishing Arthur's descendants.)
     The bottom line, for any of us who take ourselves seriously as genealogists, is that we _cannot ever trust such sources_. Use them, yes, when we have nothing else to turn to, for clues as to where we might look for records. Note them, as long as we are unable to _disprove_ them, for the consideration of later researchers, yes, that's reasonable as well. Trust them? Even the original records we consult are not always correct, as most of us have learned to our cost. Trusting someone else's casual compilation would just reveal that we had no idea what we're doing.
     That said, I think I may understand what Elizabeth meant. Tragic as such multiplication of error is to those of us who hope to gather accurate information on our ancestors, we can't hope to ever put a stop to it all. And sometimes, the mistakes are so blatant, all you can do is laugh to keep from weeping in despair. I found one of "my ancestors" once in a popular online family tree: supposedly, they had been born in the 1400s - and died in 1798. The idea was so ridiculous, I found myself sitting in front of the screen, snickering. No, it wasn't really funny, considering this "information" had been published on a CD-ROM, but I was just overwhelmed by the absurdity of anyone taking such a claim seriously. (No, it was _not_ a typo; this particular tree had people fathering - or even giving birth to - children years after their death, others who lived for centuries, one man who died _before_ he was born... you get the idea. And they'd traced a few lines
 back to something like 8000 BC...)
                        Ray Beere Johnson II


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