An online tree has the name of my ancestor’s wife for a couple who were married in approximately 1800. It’s a personal tree created by one submitter whose email bounces, whose user name on the site is no help in identifying them and whose tree contains no sources. I am probably going to give no credence to the name of the ancestor’s wife in that tree.

I know there are some genealogists who would list the wife with that name and cite the essentially unidentifiable tree as the source. I’m not one of those genealogists. Yes I can cite the tree. Any source, reliable or full of malarkey, can be cited. But just because I can cite it does not mean that I am going to use it. There compiler of the tree includes no references to source material and I’m reasonably certain they did not have first hand knowledge of an event that took place in 1800 and likely didn’t communicate personally with anyone who did.

A 1890-era genealogy gives the year of death of an ancestor in 1847. The ancestor died in a time and place where death records are not kept and no contemporary record can be located that suggests his date of death. It’s a published book so a citation can easily be created. I’ll probably use it in this case because I have an author’s name and the 1847 death date is reasonably close to the publication date of the book. It is possible that the author corresponded with someone who knew the date. Any use of that 1847 date will include the citation to the book in which the date appeared.

In the early 1980s a relative typed a listing of the descendants of my third great-grandparents that my grandmother had in her possession until 2004 or so when I acquired it. There are handwritten notes in her handwriting (which I recognize) of information that was left out or related to events that happened after the book was typed. In it is a name the woman her uncle married and was living with when he died in 1972–with a question mark after it. I can create a citation for this item (referencing typed copy of the book and the fact that the name of the wife was in my Grandma’s handwriting). I would comment in the citation that Grandma likely obtained the name from a relative but that I do not know who that relative was. In this case I at least know who wrote the information in and the informant was the niece of the man the woman married, but that there was a question mark after the name.

I’m not citing that online tree whose compiler I cannot identify and cannot even communicate with. That’s because there is no way to evaluate the reliability of that information. I may use the name as a clue, but my experience with unsourced maiden names from this era and before is that they tend to be incorrect. Sometimes woefully so.

I’ll cite the 1847 date of death as coming from the 1890 genealogy–along with a discussion of why it’s possible the book is correct. It helps that the year is consistent with when his widow married again.

I’ll cite the privately typed family genealogy with Grandma’s handwritten note in it for the name of the spouse–along with how she likely came to know that information. In this case it helps that the first name in Grandma’s handwriting is the same as the one that appears in other records. It is the last name that is “new.”

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  1. One thing about ancestry.com trees; when “ancestry tree” is the only source listed it MIGHT be that the owner has uploaded a GEDcom. Their sources probably would not nave been included. Since I’ve realized this, I’m more inclined to research a name someone gives rather than pass the whole tree by. If they have not signed in for over 3 months, they are probably dead or not capable of doing genealogy any more. Sad, but true.

    • I may use the name as a clue, but if the only thing I can find is the tree reference my personal approach would be to not include that information in my tree. As a clue if I’m really stuck is the only way I would approach it–for the reasons you suggest.

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