Swisher Genealogy

My Hobby is Family History

How accurate is your family tree? Can you prove it?

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This post may be long, but I hope each of you will take the time to read it in its entirety.
Some of you reading this may be very new to genealogy research, and are just glad to be able to connect with relatives for the first time. Others, like me have been doing research for years.
Either way, it is vitally important that everyone who cares at all about their family tree must do everything possible to ensure its accuracy for themselves and any other person who looks at it and potentially uses it to base their further research on. I hope that everyone who reads this blog feels the same way as I do.
Currently I have over 6,800 names in my family tree, and I have over 8,600 source citations. I do believe in documenting everything. I believe I have faithfully (99% of the time—nobody is perfect.) documented where I got my information. I am convinced that even though I have done that, many of my source citations need to be rewritten to better explain how and where the source came from, and to be written in a form that is currently acceptable by those who are experts in source citation. Having stated that, the experts say that documentation in any form is better than no documentation at all, so don’t despair if you are not sure how to document your research.
Therefore, here is where I see issues in documentation, and why.
I started in the early 80’s and inherited all of my mother’s research, which she started in 1946. When I started, research was done by hand, either by written correspondence, which my mother did a lot of, or by taking a trip to libraries, courthouses, ancestral home sites, gravesites, etc. Both my mother and I first recorded our “tree” in notebooks using hand written family group sheets and other “paper” forms, etc.
A few decades ago, the internet came into existence, and genealogy software and websites began to be available, and useable. I switched over to very early versions of Family Tree Maker as soon as they were available. Finally, in 2011 I was able to start a subscription to Ancestry, which allowed me to link my Family Tree Maker software with an Ancestry online tree. I have always been happy with my Family Tree Maker and I am just as happy with the Ancestry site. Whenever there was a new version of the software, I updated as soon as possible. Currently I am using FTM 2014
.Why am I telling you all of this? There are several reasons.
First, the method of documentation has changed considerably over the years. Early on, I used paper files, indexed with a very simple labeling method and that was my source documentation.
As the software came along, I tried to use the method of source documentation available within the software.
Second, when I started using websites, I tried to record the URL’s of those sites, many of which have gone by the wayside and therefore in my records the source citation is not adequate anymore.
Third, with the ability to download from one tree to another though Ancestry or other databases, I have found that not everyone has used good documentation citations for what they have on their tree, and some of the trees are not even accurate. However, the size of the database of trees that are now online through Ancestry, and others, is too big and too useful not to use, therefore, we all need to be very vigilant in testing the accuracy of, and documenting what we find online.
Fourth, with the advancement of Find-A-Grave (now owned by Ancestry,) it has become one of the best resources available for research, and there are multiple ways of documenting what is on that website depending on whether you go directly to Find-A-Grave, or go through Ancestry to get to Find-A-Grave.
So when you pile one source on top of another source, on top of another source it becomes very complicated in my opinion to document the real sources adequately. In reality that was also an issue back when everyone did “paper” files as many times the information gathered came from one person based on research done by another person, who based his or her research on research done by someone else.
Not a good scenario!
I know that quite often that is the case, because I have seen my mother’s research work show up in some of the early websites, without citing her as a source. Now some of that same information has shown up on some of the Ancestry trees, and other websites, and details in those places make it obvious that the information came from her, but not recorded as such.
So how do I correct my own poor citations over the years and adequately document my current research?
To be able to do that, I have spent quite a bit of time lately taking advantage of the Learning Center in Ancestry.com. It is fantastic.
In case you do not know it, the Ancestry.com Learning Center is free. You do not need to subscribe to Ancestry, or have a tree on Ancestry to use it. You can find it on their home page. It is set up in such a way that brand new genealogists can find a vast amount of good training and those who have been doing research for years can also find good training to improve even the most advanced genealogists skills.
One of the best features is their http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2F65E97B57EF8279 website, that has hundreds of videos each approximately ½ hour long. A link to that site is included in this post. I have watched over fifty of these, and plan to watch a lot more. Several of these have been on source documentation and I have learned a lot. Now I am in the process of going back through my FTM tree and revising as many source citations as possible to make them more accurate and clear as to what, when, and why I included that document in my tree.
I sincerely hope that everyone reading this will take the time to check these videos out and help themselves improve their skill level in doing genealogy. We are never too old to learn.
Happy family researching.

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