I cannot remember exactly when I started doing genealogy research. The closest I can get to an educated guess is remembering a 4th of July family get together where I had my new binder of information and asking my cousins to fill in the blanks in the family group sheet for each of their families. My oldest son was crawling then, so I’m guessing that I’ve been doing research for about 21 years.
At that time, I had no clue about citing sources and of course, I just KNEW I’d remember where I’d found my information. How could I possibily forget such important stuff? But now, 21 years later, I really have to wonder if some of my information is just a matter of bad information being passed on from researcher to researcher with absolutely no sources! If someone told me a date, I just accepted that and added it to my database. And I have to wonder if the new “Member Connect” feature on Ancestry.com won’t just add to that.
Yesterday, I was able to spend some time with my uncle and 2 cousins. One of my cousins has a co-worker who enjoys doing genealogy research, so she put together a binder of research for her. I was anxious to look at the binder to see if there was anything that I didn’t have and there was! In my tree, I have Andrew Jackson Stephens married to Lucy Stephens on 5 Apr, 1858 in Kentucky. Almost every timeline event that I have for Andrew and Lucy says Russell County, Kentucky – some with sources and some without. The only exception is that I have Andrew being born in Cooke Co, Mississippi, but again, no source. I have no sources for the marriage date, but (cousin) Susie’s co-worker had found a marriage register for Andrew J Stephens and Lucy J Stephens married on 5 April, 1858 in Ripley County, MISSOURI! Missouri? Why Missouri? I used google maps and found that Ripley County would be an 8 hour drive from Russell County today. Imagine how long that would have taken in 1858! I have no other notes showing Missouri as a location for my family. So I thought I’d get onto Ancestry to see what I could discover. Perhaps this would open some doors for my research!
I was surprised when the “Member Connect” portion of the screen popped up on the Ancestry Home page. I believe that today is the first day for this screen. I was curious, but didn’t want to take time to dig into it just yet, so I moved onto my screen for Andrew Stephens. I was surprised again to see a “Members Connect” section of my page telling me that there were 10 other people also researching Andrew. I clicked on the box to see these 10 people and EVERY ONE of them had the marriage date of 5 April, 1858 (a couple had 25 April, 1858) – but NO ONE had a source! How can we all have the exact same date with no source? Could it be that the “merge this person into your tree” option is just a little too tempting? Better to have SOMETHING in the blank than nothing? I admit that I’ve used the “merge” option from time to time, but usually when someone has a long list of children that I don’t have because the parent is not in my direct line. And I have no illusions that everyone puts every source into the Ancestry database – I know that I don’t. But the document that Susie’s researcher had found was very simple to find and attach to my tree, so it seems strange that out of 10 other researchers, all with the same date, not one of them had ever attached this file to their page for Andrew or Lucy. But is the fact that many researchers have this date a good enough reason to feel confident that this Andrew and Lucy are MY Andrew and Lucy? Could it be that someone long ago found this record for their ancestor and because the names matched, other people assumed it was THEIR ancestor and the date was passed on and on and on?
So is “Member Connect” going to be an enabler of sorts for spreading unconfirmed information? You could spend HOURS just clicking on others’ databases and merging to your file – without ever “connecting” with any members at all!
I made my Ancestry trees “private” quite awhile ago. I did this for several reason, but mainly, because often I attach a record and when it shows up in my timeline portion, I use the “description” line to explain why it’s NOT the correct person! I even have one description line that says “this is NOT the correct person – stop attaching this file!” because I have one of those family where the same name pops up mulitple time in the same family. Or if a record seems like it could be a match, my description line will have questions to follow up on to confirm the information. But if a person merges my file into their tree, the description line doesn’t go with it, so they would have no way of remembering that I added the file to disprove the information or to remind myself that I’ve looked at that record before and it is not for my person. How many incorrect death dates, for example, could be added to other databases because of 1 or 2 people merging my file and then 1 or 2 people merging from each of those files, etc. How many people are putting “Kentucky” as a location simply because they’ve never found a record from anywhere else and they assume that their ancestor was always in Kentucky? I’ve seen alot of databases that give a date of birth around 1810 in Russell County, Kentucky, when Russell County wasn’t formed until 1825! And the more people who show the same information for a person, the more likely it appears to be correct to a new researcher.
For MY Andrew and Lucy, my plan is to look for local tax records for Ripley County, Missouri to see if I can find this family. Is there a state census for Missouri around this time? I have no information for Lucy’s parents, so perhaps it will be HER family that I could find. A quick search (and I mean very quick) search for an 1860 federal census for Missouri for this family was not successful. How far back can I take this family at this location? Can I find a birth record for the 1st child? What about a Civil War record? If I can follow this family forword to a time where I have a Russell County record for my family (1870), then I will consider that “proof” that this is not the correct family and therefore, bad information for the marriage date. But what if I can’t disprove it? Is that enough reason to think I’ve confirmed it? And if someone else who DOES have access to my tree attached the record to their file and then I disprove it, how many others will have integrated it into their file by then?
I know that all experienced researchers would look at new information like this and follow up with their own confirmations. New researchers beware! The “merge” option of Ancestry could really tempt you onto the wrong path for your research and the “Member Connect” program could be bringing you even more temptation opportunities then ever before!