Friday, February 24, 2012

Fabulous Tool or Fabulous Confusion? Think Before You Click


April's Tree

When I reactivated my Ancestry.com membership and bought  Family Tree Maker 2012 with sync, I also re-ignited my interest in  family history. Because together these resources form a powerful tool for finding the branches of the family tree, and documenting them faster than ever.

While speeding down the old ancestral road, I discovered that the convenience of merging data from other family’s trees may end up costing me more time and effort in the long run.
A three-hundred year old woman? How did that get in my tree? Checking the name, I found eight other trees with the same mistake. Longevity is booming at ancestry.com.

Worse, I found more subtle data corruption with wrong names being insinuated into my tree. Garril cannot be mistaken for Garrison. Yet when I looked for corroborating sources to confirm the marriage of Henry Harris Harper Gandy to Tamsin Garrison, I found that he married Tamsin Garril. The time I spent carefully deleting wrong people, duplicate people, wrong dates, etc. could have been spent more productively, searching for source records instead.

I can hear you thinking, “That wouldn’t happen in my tree – I’m careful.” Not so fast: when is the last time you ran a duplicate person check? Or a bad data report? When is the last time you ran a source report or better yet, a report on unsourced data?

Today is the day I discovered my task (my obsession, my joy) is far, far larger than I thought it was just yesterday. Each day brings its own various sad or happy enlightenment.

I recently found two of my Arkansas cousins were thoroughly merged into confusion in most of the available trees. Surely they didn’t die on the same day in the same place? Possible but not probable, and could they really have married the same man? I began to dig into their census records, then their marriage records, and finally their cemetery records.

I found they were twins, Emmie and Addie Twiggs, born 10 Mar 1867 in Union County, Georgia. Emma married Alf Palmer in 1884; they had a baby, B E Palmer, in 1885 who died in 1886, and is buried in Fairmount Cemetery, Gentry, Arkansas. Emmie’s death followed her baby’s a few months later, and she is buried in the same cemetery, E A Palmer.

Her gravestone is mis-read at Find-a-Grave as born 1862, instead of 1867, however the “10 Mar” birth date is quite clear, and so is the correct year (1867) in the enlarged photograph. She died 2 Dec 1886. Her sister Addie Twiggs, happily, went on to marry Thomas L. Downum in 1887, and had nine children (eight still living in 1910). She died in 1919.

Although the transcribed marriage records for the story above are muddled in several cases, what happened can be worked out using just the data available on Ancestry.com and Find-a-Grave, (although, unfortunately, not by using the trees).

I have concluded that other trees, at best, might point the way to search for names and places. The best of them include source references that I can then go and search, but actually merging must be an extremely rare and cautious enterprise.

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