There are differing schools of thought on whether one should use the online trees for research clues. I’ll leave that up to the individual researcher to decide, but I’m firmly convinced that if one uses them
clues are all they should be used for
Copying information from online trees willy-nilly is:
- asking to have many errors in your tree
- potentially calling the work of others your own (unless the tree is meticulously cited)
- repeating potentially incorrect or uncited information
- potentially missing out on the “real story” or the stories that “information surfers” overlooked
Using them responsibly for clues is another matter entirely. I have a forbear who I have is one of my “tree stopping points.” I do not have her parents names, but I know when and where she got married. I can’t connect her to a set of parents, siblings, or anyone else before she married her husband.
There are online trees that claim she fits into a family from the area. The problem is that there’s nothing in any of the trees that ties her to the family…just the fact that she marries in that area when they are living there. One of the online trees has a fair amount of citation to actual records on the family.
None of the trees have any specific document, discussion, informal proof, etc.that indicates why they put my ancestor in the family. They don’t even cite the marriage and say “you know, she married near where these other people were living and they have the same last name and she’s the age of their other children, so we think she’s one too.”
I’m not saying that would be a sufficient reason, but at least it would be a reason. It’s easier for me to decide if I agree or disagree with someone if they have a reason. Sometimes when there’s not a smoking gun that clearly states something, one has to look at several records and reach a conclusion based on those records in the aggregate. That’s fine. I understand that. But at least tell me that “here are the three (or however many) records that make me think she’s their child.” Again…I can then decide to agree or disagree. If there’s nothing indicating why, I’m tempted to think there’s no reason.
Or maybe they just dreamed it
Do I ignore the information in the online tree and research the family from scratch? That’s one option.
Do I use the names, dates, and citations to original records in the online tree in an attempt to find something that connects my person to the family a little more concretely? That’s another option.
Do I copy without analysis the information in the online tree and include it in my database? No. That’s not an option.
My personal preference is to mine the tree for clues, leads, or sources that may help me in my search. Sometimes one does not want to reinvent the wheel. And I have enough families where the trees contain nothing or are clearly so riddled with errors that it’s best to start from scratch.
I do not copy the information directly into my files. I realize others may choose not to use the trees at all. That’s fine. I just want people to think about the information they are entering into their database and analyze it. I do not expect everyone to take the same approach that I do.
I was asked how I handle data from trees that I use for clues. I keep the downloaded information from any online tree separate from my “good” tree in a separate database file. Those databases have “download” as part of the file title. That’s my code to indicate that the information was downloaded from a tree.