I’m still thinking about how I feel about trees being a “mandatory” part of an exhaustive search.

Here’s a few random thoughts:

  1. I’m working on the wife and mother of a John Rucker who died in the early 1740s in the Orange County, Virginia, area. There are hundreds of trees on John with a variety of names for his wife, but most have names that were admitted to be incorrect by the “initial” author years ago. The majority of these trees repeat these errors. Is it worth my time to muddle through all these trees? I’m tempted to think it is analogous to wading through every book ever written that mentions Abraham Lincoln in order to be certain I’ve gotten everything there is on him if I’m writing a new biography.
  2. My time and resources are limited. Is it better to search in as many “original” records as possible instead of wading through online trees that are repetitive and “extremely derivative?”
  3. If I do muddle through the online trees, shouldn’t my research process be a part of my search results? Should I include what parameters I used to eliminate certain trees from consideration?
  4. If I only use online trees that “agree with me” isn’t that stacking the deck in my favor and cherry picking sources to utilize those that are consistent with my theory instead of looking at everything?
  5. If I say that I’m doing an “exhaustive” search and including the trees as a part of it, do I really know what an exhaustive search is?

Just some thoughts.



12 Responses

  1. I look at church and town records and census first. When I get matched with others’ trees, I click on the tree with the most sources and records and look them over closely. I do not use trees with one source – which is usually just others’ trees.

  2. I posted my own thoughts on what a reasonably exhaustive search should look like on my blog last week, but regarding your query on John from the early 1740s in Virginia – I agree that looking through all of those might be a waste of time. It’s like the family trees for my husband’s John Whitmer who died in Muhlenberg County, KY in 1828 and who is in hundreds of trees online, most of which have incorrect parents or no parents at all. One has to pick his/her battles, so to speak, and decide if finding a possible tidbit or clue is worth the effort of sifting through all those trees. However, if the ancestor in question has little published online, then I would put forth the effort. I have found some great clues that turned out to be right on the mark. I would most likely still be drawn in to look through quite a few trees looking for that new clue.

  3. I don’t trust online trees any more since the shaky leaf commercials began. Too many people use the hints without background info, including one of my cousins. He’d rather keep the wrong info in his tree than look at my actual paper documentation.

  4. I’ve never had much luck with online trees. One of my ancestor is listed in many trees with the wrong wife and it’s so obvious because the wife listed was having children well after her death date (but I can’t get anyone to change it or remove it). Another tree published in a book has incorrect information on my grandfather. Knowing there would be an update published I contacted the author and provided correct documented information. It didn’t change. Another ancestor has been listed with parents simply because “all other possibilities were incorrect “. I’m not sure exactly what that means but it’s not proof to me. I think some people just want to be connected whether it’s right or wrong. I will look at a tree for specific information I can prove and if I don’t see it I disregard it. I just don’t have the time anymore to be looking at something I don’t feel confident about.

    • I’m not certain what’s meant by “all other possibilities were incorrect,” but it could be that other reasonable explanations for something were shown to be incorrect using various records and the compiler went with the scenario they could not eliminate. That’s a research process that one has to be careful using. And it can be frustrating when compilers are not interested in communicating or discussing scenario, but unfortunately that is the way it is. And, as you mention, there are those who just want to have a connection to an earlier person, even if that connection is not a reliable one.

  5. In this instance, since there are so many online trees, I agree it would be a waste of time to go through all of the trees.

    In Ancestry, there is an option to just search for Historical Records and Stories and Publications If a Public Member Tree has anything of value, it is mostly to be included in the Stories and Publications category.

  6. I’m kinda new at this, so at 1st, I was excited when I found other trees….but when I started looking into them, I found way too many errors….but i will use some of the pictures people put onto their trees for my own family tree that I have verified.

  7. I find this discussion a bit disturbing. Yes, there are many, many trees out there that are, at best, regurgitations and often just plain wrong. But there are also good researchers who may have uncovered information that I would never find on my own.

    For example, I was raised in the neighborhood where my great-great grandfather lived. My Granddad would take me into the cemetery and show me his grave along with those of his three wives and talk about his grandfather. I have the dress that my great-great grandmother wore when she married him. It looks almost unworn, probably because she had two children in three years and died in childbirth with the third. I have a brick from the house built by his father. I have shared these on my tree.

    A family friend, knowing of my interest in this ancestor, brought me a news article from a town on the other side of the county disclosing that he had divorced his third wife there. (She found it while researching her family.) That wasn’t one of the tales my Granddad shared! But this information is also in my tree.

    I might think after years of research that I had uncovered all there was about this ancestor. Yet, by following one of those “leaves,” I recently found a cousin in a far state that had uploaded a scanned picture from a tintype of him that her ancestor had taken with her on a move westward. And I was able to share a picture of my cousin’s family that had been sent back to the home family.

    Sometimes I need to pause and remember that I do not have a monopoly on “good research” or knowledge.

    • I think it’s good to have the discussion and thanks for your post. One of the problem is that there are those who don’t really think about how they use the trees in their research. I’m really just wanting people to think about their process.

      There are trees that do have accurate information and information that is sourced in one way or another. There’s the other end of the spectrum as well. There are trees that sometimes have information that is not available elsewhere.

      Sometimes, from the standpoint of the person using the trees, it comes down to balance. There are some individuals (particularly those who are 17th and early 18th century immigrants) for whom there may be several hundred entries–or even more. For some of these immigrants that have been researched for decades and written about several times, the trees are often only composed of information from published and other secondary sources. Whether or not it’s worth a researcher’s time to go through all those is up to the researcher. For me, there are a few families where it’s probably not worth my time based on the probable benefit, particularly if there are other sources I’ve not fully utilized or if I’ve already been through all the published books that were used to create many of these trees.

      There are “good researchers” who do create online trees. I’m not saying that there are not. I sometimes think that the trees are more likely to potentially yield “new” information or newly discovered family ephemera on those families where the parties involved were born after 1800, but that’s just a supposition on my part.

  8. I just looked at a “shaky leaf” hint which consisted of 4 public Ancestry member trees. After clicking the “review” button and looking at the 4 trees, it was immediately obvious that 3 of the trees did not involve my ancestor. The 4th tree was my ancestor, but had no sources and/or records attached or any additional family information. The next hint had 2 trees and one tree has 5 sources/5 records vs. my tree with 3 sources/3 records. Plus it gives birth, death and spouse’s name. Ding ding ding….we have a winner!

    Determining the worth of those 6 online trees took less than a minute. I only spend time looking at the tree that has something to offer.

  9. I don’t use trees for anything more than curiosity. I have that feature turned off so they don’t even show up in my “shaky leaves”. IF I am stuck on a particular problem I will peruse the public trees, but 99.99% of the time I find it to be a complete waste. I tend to get angry and frustrated at the bad genealogy out there, which messes with the mojo in the Cave ….

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