16 December 2013

Consider the Source

Updated 21 Feb 2014

There are endless instances where we as genealogists and family historians need to consider the source of our information. The story that Grandma told, was it a first hand account or was it information that had been passed down? The informant on the death certificate, was it a close family member or a friend of 5 years? The witnesses for a delayed birth certificate, how clear is their memory 20-70 years after the event?
We should be just as skeptical of certain record collections. Regular readers of this blog know that calling Ancestry Member Trees a "source" is laughable. Here are some other collections that should be ignored or considered leads to real sources.

Millennium File

"The Millennium File is a compiled source and is similar in form to other linked databases, such as Ancestry World Tree. Databases like these are great starting points for beginning your research. It is always good to find out what others have already learned and compiled about your ancestors." Of course that assumes that those "others" have done actual research. A great starting point for your research is records, not trees.
"Many of these lineages extend back to nobility and renowned historical figures. In fact, one of the things the Millennium File focuses on is linking to European nobility and royalty." So this is a clickophiles dream collection. "Source information is also provided in this database, making it easier to verify the accuracy of the research done." This is what you should pay attention to. If the source information is trees or family group sheets walk away.

Family Data Collections

These include the following:
Family Data Collection - Births
Family Data Collection - Marriages
Family Data Collection - Deaths
Family Data Collection - Individual Records
Originally these were a single collection, divided into smaller collections after being added to Ancestry.com. When an "individual record" includes birth, marriage, and death information Ancestry suddenly has four records instead of one. Great way for them to pad their numbers.
The Family Data Collection is extraneous data from a genetic study. "Citing the source of every genealogical fact in the electronic gene pool was deemed unnecessary and cost prohibitive by medical researchers." While there may be valuable information in these collections these are not records but essentially trees and should be treated as such.

U.S. and International Marriage Records

This collection is data compiled from family group sheets. While this is also not a source there is a link in the "About" section to order copies. The copies may or may not have sources listed but should include contact information for the individual researchers. I am going to place an order and post an update once I have it.
UPDATE: The family group sheets are purchased by surname. They are relatively inexpensive, especially if you order the PDFs, because they do not search the pages for your family. You get them all at once and sift through them yourself.
The sheets do not have space for formal sources so at most there may be a brief list of sources. Anything from "MO death cert., Greene Co. mar. cert., Probate rec. for [name]" to "Letter from [name]" or "Notes from [name]." There are submitter names and addresses on each sheet so you can write to the person if you have more questions. Of course there is a possibility the submitter has moved or passed on. Each sheet is stamped with the date received. The ones I ordered have stamps from about 1985 to 1999.
In the sources lists you may find the name, and author, of a family book that you didn't know existed. You may find multiple sheets that involve your family or you may find just the one that was indexed in the U.S. and International Marriage Records collection.

Gravestone Index

The indices of Find a Grave and Billion Graves are the most popular of these. Data on these sites is created by users. I'll focus on Find a Grave since I haven't used Billion Graves.
On Find a Grave users can add memorials without photos or proof that the person is buried in that particular cemetery. Personally I give more weight to memorials that have a photo but even then, the stone could have been placed on the grave yesterday. It could have been purchased by a descendant who never met the person. Unlike the Family Data Collection, which I generally ignore, these records should be examined closely. Click through to the actual memorial. A user may have added a bio, obituary or photo of the person. If no family members are linked click on the name of the cemetery and search the cemetery for other members of the family.
These records should be viewed with a critical eye but can potentially be a treasure trove.

If you have a question about any collection's validity go to the search page for that collection and scroll down to the "About" section.

NEXT POST: Angel Baby


  1. A little more info about Find A Grave...
    Find A Grave does NOT verify ANY information. "Contributors" create the memorials and there are many contributors that add information and create memorials without verifying the information that they are adding. There are contributors that add information from family files and databases, from family notes, from guesses and even randomly add memorials into ANY cemetery without ANY knowledge that the grave is actually in that cemetery. There are contributors that have no idea where someone is buried but they want to "create their tree" on FaG or want to "connect family' or even want to "memorialize my family member". Since FaG does not like and has rules against creating memorials for an individual that it is unknown where they are buried, these "contributors" add their family member, etc to any cemetery so that FaG does not find out that they have no idea where the person was actually buried. This is called "plopping" and is rampant on FaG.

    Billion Graves works differently. A contributor to BG MUST use the BG app on a GPS phone in order to take grave photos and add them to the site. Using the embedded Geo tag on the photo, BG then maps the grave location. The only issues I have found with this website is that 1) sometimes the information associated with the grave is placed in the wrong cemetery database. However, if one looks at the map for the grave then they will be able to see the ACTUAL grave location and thus the correct cemetery. Due to the imprecise US GPS system, the graves exact location may be a few feet off on the BG map but that is virtually nothing to a real researcher.
    2) Volunteers transcribe the grave markers and can and do make errors. But with the marker photo right there, any decent researcher will read for themselves and retrieve the correct information.

    Hope this helps.
    And thanks for the above information, I did not know where Ancestry found some of their info and wondered about it.

    1. Thanks RnR! I could've written 2 or 3 more pages on the issues with FaG. It really is a case by case basis. One memorial can be worse than One World Tree and another can be gold.
      A big plus for Billion Graves is that a memorial can't be created without a photo but I'm sure it has it's issues too. I wish I could remember the name of one of my memorials on FaG (If I could I would've used it as an example. I checked BG because a young girl's marker didn't have a surname. None of the markers around hers looked similar and it wasn't an obvious family plot. On BG someone decided to use the surname of the plot next to hers. I posted it on the FaG boards and with two other people we were able to find the correct surname :-) (It wasn't the one on BG.)