One of the trends in popular genealogy that is impossible to deny is the rapid accumulation of information, even if it’s errant information. Professional genealogists complain about it. I read the message boards! This genealogical hoarding is an interesting phenomena. But like all hoarding, there tends to be a reckoning. Eventually something will gob-smack you in the face and wake you up to the reality of what you are doing. Everyone will have errors in their trees, but with sourcing and a little bit of research, we can greatly minimize those errors, particularly those passed on to others.
Some people on Ancestry are obviously just collecting names, collecting data, and collecting photos without even the slightest amount of logic or research applied. Case-in-point, I found a hint to my own name this week. I was so excited, but when I clicked on the link, it was to another online tree that had listed me as deceased and having died in a place where I have never lived and never visited. I was married to the correct man from the correct family, however, the information about me was wrong. I contacted the tree owner to see if he or she could update and correct the information… no answer yet. But then a strange thing happened. All sorts of people started attaching all of that wrong information to their own trees. The misinformation propagated like rabbits in springtime.
If you approach your research as a connector rather than a collector, you might be surprised what you find. Family history is about more than names and dates. It’s about lives and struggles, wars and ideals, faith and hope. You can learn about some of the heroes and some of the scoundrels. How many of us know the migration and hardships? The stories and the “overcoming” are what make a great testimonial of life. The connections woven between military men or farmers in a community, or the women at church are so valuable for us to understand how they survived and thrived. It’s important for us to have that perspective on how we came to be and all of the events that had to occur in order for us to be here right now. That kind of perspective is life-changing. To think that all eight of my great great grandfathers had to survive their Civil War service for me to be here right now is a thought that makes me choke up.
One of the great things about an online tree is the ability to seek and find. The difficulty lies in assessing the quality of information. I would encourage you to look at each tree with a careful eye. Is it sourced? Are there documents and photos and stories? If not, move on. If each of us approach the process as connectors rather than collectors, we will build a much more valuable network of information.