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Tip of the day...Fact or fiction?

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ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


Jonesey Report 18 Nov 2009 08:30

Much has been said about the dangers of copying information found in other peoples family trees. I know that there is a great temptation to add it to your tree because it fills a gap. Your heart sometimes rules your head and you are prepared to accept the information as fact, but is it?

If you are serious about tracing your family history then my advice is simple. Accept nothing at face value, include nothing in your tree that you personally have not first verified as fact.

At the very least you should ask the person in whose tree you found the information how they acquired it and what documentation/records they have to prove its accuracy. If they respond saying that they have none then view the information with suspicion as it implies that they may not be as thorough in their research as they should be. There are other clues that might help you to decide whether the tree owner is a serious family historian or just a name collector. Are the birthdates shown as just the year or a full date? Who else is shown in the tree and is it reasonable that they could legitimately be there?

With regard that last point I have seen trees which included King Canute (Birthplace indicated as Norfolk), William the conqueror and yesterday, I viewed one on Ancestry with the Emperor Nero in it complete with photograph. Now I have no way of knowing whether these were the tree owners true ancestors or not but shall we just say that I have my doubts. If the tree owner wishes to include them in their tree then that is up to them but if they do then I would seriously doubt that the information they have about your missing great aunt Gladys or cousin Bill is likely to be accurate.

Good luck with your research.


Wildgoose Report 18 Nov 2009 09:01

Well said, Jonesey.

I noticed a tree on Ancestry a few days ago. They had 'found' their Clara born 1873 in Kent and plonked her down in our family group, none of which were born or ever lived (to my knowledge) in Kent!

They have built the tree around their 'Clara' using the information on Ancestry (mine, complete with the odd, old mistake) and have her eldest brother marrying a 'Sarah' when he married Harriet!

I have written to the person, offering to exchange information without pointing out the mistakes but no reply is forthcoming and I don't expect to hear back from them :-)

I've made my Ancestry tree private now, has been for about 6 months.


AuntySherlock Report 18 Nov 2009 09:35

I went to a workshop on the LDS Family Search site last week. Very informative and interesting. One of the suggestions made by the presenter (when speaking about family history research in general) was, "Always have two sources to prove your information. Two sources from different angles". So if you have found an address in an Ancestry census try to double check the address by other means, telephone directory, electoral rolls, personal knowledge.

+*+blossom In Essex+*+

+*+blossom In Essex+*+ Report 18 Nov 2009 10:49

Following on from Aunty Sherlock, can I just add that it is always wise to check so-called 'family knowledge' as this can also lead you up the garden path.

It is tempting to think that what your relatives tell you is correct, but always back this up with certs as well. I spent ages chasing a long lost person, who I was told was called 'Peter'. Peter proved to be extremely elusive, until I discovered that his name was Samuel Charles. It was a lot simpler when I had his proper name....


Wildgoose Report 18 Nov 2009 10:51

I agree with that, Blossom.

I spent a lot of time looking for the birth/death of my mother's baby sister.

Turned out she was my Grandmother's baby sister.

That was probably my fault for not writing it all down. Well, I was about 10 when they told me!


Jilliflower Report 18 Nov 2009 11:05

Good morning uncle Jonesey,
I love this tip as family stories are fascinating but often embroidered as I have found out to my cost. But there is often a grain of truth which can take a lot of checking. I baulked a bit at the advice to check from two aspects - it takes enough to get the facts from one source!
I've found it's important not to give elderly relations any false info as they can feed it back to you as fact!
Still haven't traced my German Duchess though.........


AllanC Report 18 Nov 2009 11:11

Yes, I've had one or two contacts recently about matches to my tree, but when I've asked for more information there's been no reply. Actually one of them looks as if it could be a link I've been looking for and at least I know where to start looking in parish records to find the info for myself.

Talking about the LDS site, it's worth remembering that there are two types of record - those from official sources (parish records etc) and those submitted by LDS members. Submitted records may not always be accurate, but they are identified as such.


Jilliflower Report 18 Nov 2009 11:19

could you just tell me please how I know which LDS records are which?


AuntySherlock Report 18 Nov 2009 11:30

Allan, Do you have that info. I have it in a booklet. I don't think I would be contravening copyright if I quoted three paragraphs of it.


AllanC Report 18 Nov 2009 12:19

If you search on the LDS site for a particular event, say birth and/or christening, you get a list of those matching your search conditions. If you then click on one of them you get the IGI Individual Record. Near the bottom of the page is a space headed 'Messages'. In this space you should see one of the following:

"Extracted birth or christening record for the locality listed in the record. The source records are usually arranged chronologically by the birth or christening date."

"Form submitted by a member of the LDS Church. The form lists the submitter's name and address and may include source information. The address may be outdated. Details vary. To find the form, you must know the batch and sheet number."
(The batch and sheet number are in the 'Source Information' box directly under 'Messages')

All very clear, and all due credit to the LDS for making the distinction.


Jilliflower Report 18 Nov 2009 12:52

I get it! Thanks AllanC. It's very easy to take so much for granted


Kate Report 18 Nov 2009 14:07

Great point about the relatives aspect - when my gran was still alive, I asked her who her mum was (Alice Worsley) and whether Alice had brothers and sisters.

Gran said, yes - there were also Polly, Amy, Edith and Laura. After a lot of confusion, I eventually worked out that Polly, Amy, Edith and Laura were actually Alice Worsley's aunts on her mother's side! But I suspect that my gran probably called the women "aunty" - I call my great aunts the same thing!


AllanC Report 18 Nov 2009 14:41

Further to Kate's comment, some "aunts" (and "uncles") may not have been related at all! It was common for children to address or refer to adult friends of the family as "Aunt Mary", "Uncle Fred", etc. Simple Christian names would have been shockingly disrespectful but "Mrs Smith" etc too formal.
Several people I first knew as aunts or uncles were not in fact related - and it felt quite strange in adult life making the transition to simply using their Christian names.


SylviaInCanada Report 18 Nov 2009 19:35

I also used to make a point that people should not take at face value the information that WE find for them on here.

Some of them seem to think that if two helpers find the same person in the same census, and post that information ...... that amounts to verification

For 2 or 3 years, I used to add a statement on all of my such postings that my information MUST be checked with other sources, especially certificates.

I got fed up with posting that sentence .

................. and with the feeling that no-one was paying any attention to it because someone else had found the "same" information, so they had their "proof"!



AuntySherlock Report 18 Nov 2009 20:04

Sylvia. That is a most pertinent point. I have heard a story from elsewhere where a well meaning volunteer (and quite truthfully I have no idea of which site they were on), provided the researcher with information on a family question.

The volunteer got it wrong and the researcher went on her merry way branching out with the wrong family.

No matter what the source of your information. Check and double check.

I am also wary of when I find information in other trees which conflicts with mine. This is another occasion when you need to find more than one source of confirmation. Don't immediately assume that yours, or theirs is correct.


Elizabeth2469049 Report 18 Nov 2009 20:57

It is not always possible to check the information - but when it seems likely I do add it - and I always give the source in my notes - e.g." place and date of death from X's tree", or even "family rumour".

I've had the same frustration about no replies - on Ancestry I recently wrote to someone who had confused names in a census - two James father and son - how they thought James aged 10 in 1881 was identical with James born 1844 I can't think! but no acknowledgement though the Ancestry note says they have visited the site in last wee4k.


SylviaInCanada Report 18 Nov 2009 21:00

Thanks AuntyS

We have an interesting problem with my gt grandfather's family

Samuel SCHOFIELD is born in 1846 in Oldham. 1851 not initially found (it was among the damaged records), so all I knew was that mother was Sarah from the 1861 Census, father dead

Some indication from the 1841 that her husband MIGHT be Benjamin ....... later proved when the 1851 was deciphered and put on line.

Well, that has all been sorted out now, especially after I got in touch with a Hot Match.

BUT what we (or Ann) found was that Benjamin came from Birstall Yorkshire ........ and the family was originally Scholefield.

Only Benjamin changed his name to Schofield, and then kept it that way through the generations.

One other of Benjamin's siblings is also found in Oldham as Schofield, but then one of his sons later changed back to Scholefield

so we have this connection to several lines ........ and we each think our spellings of the surname is the correct one!!

If only we could discover exactly when and why the spelling was changed. It might even have been Benjamin's father who moved to Oldham and changed it (a little bit of unsubstantiated evidence there!)



Madmeg Report 18 Nov 2009 22:05

Auntie Sherlock and everyone else, a standard research approach for University researchers is known as "triangulation" which means getting evidence from 3 different sources before assuming any accuracy. Obviously 3 sources isn't always possible, but 2 is the minimum.



SylviaInCanada Report 18 Nov 2009 22:36

Hi Margaret

I agree with you on that .... having been involved in research myself!

the problem for me on here is that people so often think that if they get 3 responses showing child (a) with parents living in xxxxx ....... then that is absolute proof

even if all 3 responses are the same from the, eg, 1851 Census

thta isn't proof ....... it's 3 people having found the same piece of evidence!

I even saw someone today saying they must accept something because they now had had the same bit of information from several others.

Now if the "same bit of information" is actually from several different sources showing that James and Joan are the parents of Jane ..... then that's fine.

But I think it was in fact several helpers finding the same information from the same place ................. which is not proof that it is correct!.



AuntySherlock Report 18 Nov 2009 22:42

I have also had it pointed out to me that of historic BDM records only the marriage records can be fairly trusted. Surprising!! It goes like this.

With the birth the mother and father can coerce to present incorrect information.

With the death. Well everyone knows that death certificates are highly suss and only as good as the information given by the informant.

Marriage certificates are about the safest bet. The reasoning behind this is that in order to falsify those records the bride, groom, their witnesses and generally both sets of parents and the minister or celebrant, all have to agree to what will be presented as the facts.

I would have thought that birth certificates were the most accurate but obviously research has shown that this might not be the case.