A Scary Prospect for Researching
Recently I have been looking through the Owen County mailing list archives, just perusing some of the older queries and entries. During the process I found something written by a researcher that just really scared me when I considered just how many other researchers could be similar in their researching processes.
One particular man had apparently been researching within a family surname. He had obtain some data from another researcher in the recent past. His statement that was posted to the list was:
" I took the information I received and looked up the family on the LDS website for free...
I then found everything possible on the family going back to the 1500's in England. Now that I have this data entered into my database, I can consider this family line completed."
This might on the surface be considered to be a really good thing and just a genealogist's dream.
However, I am wondering just how much time or thought this researcher placed into what entries were actually based in fact and documented and which entries were simply a collection of what another researcher "believed" was true. From the tone of his email, it would appear either very little or none.
Much of the data obtainable from the LDS is a result of what other researchers have donated from their own records. Just because it is there gives no certain authenticity to it.
It frightens me greatly to realize that I could very easily receive information from a person just like that. No true knowledge of what they are passing along as far as it's reliability goes, but they pass it along as fact anyway.
Granted there are particular items found on websites that can be "taken to the bank". There are census records, death records, etc. There are also though a great many things out there that are very wrong and error filled that every researcher should be wary of.
How much time do YOU actually spend in trying to document this information?
In case it never occurred to anyone out there....
Have you ever realized that these "jewels and gems" we come across on those websites is normally items that NOBODY else has the answer to. These posting researchers just happen to find what nobody else can every time. Furthermore, in the past I have attempted to contact this or that person who had posted information-- just because I was really curious as to the source of their data.
The responses varied from:
No response whatsoever
A bounced email
An email back stating that they have no clue as to the source of the data.
None of these above options really instill in me a sense of confidence in the posted information.
There are so many different sources of data out there it is almost impossible to determine the reliability of any of it. However, you can at least attempt to find out the source for it if you insist on using it. Nobody should ever just "stick it in their database" because "somebody" posted it.
There is a great deal of "guesstimation" work in genealogy. The real test comes with being able to prove the information that you have.
My final comment is:
Just don't "assume" that something is correct just because it is on a website.
Only assume that legal primary documents are reliable. These items would include birth records/certificates, death records/certificates, marriage records, census records. Even with these items there can indeed be errors.
Anytime you are dealing with records, data and facts that have passed through numerous human hands (which in researching is all of the time) there always exists the possibility for errors. The more hands, the more errors, similar to the childhood game of "operator".