Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Wide World (of Genealogy)

I began digging into genealogy around 1997. When I first started researching, the internet was mostly used for communication. Once I dove into the genealogical pool by way of visiting the Southern California Genealogical Library, I realized that there was so much out there waiting to be found!  Whenever I had time and opportunity, I prowled libraries and family history centers on my own. There were seminars, genealogy fairs, and educational programs, but the information was scattered and more word-of-mouth than the easily accessible lists that are just waiting to be googled today. I wasn’t alone, but it going to seminars, etc., took time, money, and for me, a babysitter. So, I kept working in libraries and eventually online, but I owe much of my education to other researchers that I met on Rootsweb email lists.  

The best part of genealogy was, and still is, meeting people from all over the world. If there is one superior reason to begin genealogy research, it is the network of wonderful people (and family) that you meet along the way.

So, you might be thinking, why do I need to go to the trouble of getting myself board-certified in genealogy?  The genealogy world has changed. I have learned so much and in doing so, I have become dismayed at what I am seeing. More and more I find genealogies posted online that are “wishful thinking” at best and outright lies in the worst situations. I have seen my own research taken and chopped up, sprinkled with huge quantities of incorrect information, and posted on the web. Worst, they still have my name and words attached. One such tree claims that my father is his own grandfather. Another lists living people and personal details! It would take me a thousand lifetimes to track down all the misinformation and correct it. In fact, when I tried to correct several incorrect genealogies posted online, I was told that only the person posting, meaning the author of such a tree, is the only one who can change or correct misinformation. On some sites, if they don’t pay for a subscription, they might not be able to view their own work, making it impossible to change without paying. It also makes it easy for such misinformation to continue to be widely spread all over the world. 

Why should I care? It is easy enough to make a mistake on your own, even with the best of intentions. I know; it happened to me. I was researching a country 5,000 miles away and the records were not easy, nor cheap to come by. My work led me to two women named “Jane” living in the same tiny village, at the same time. Backtracking, I found from the census that they were born in the same village and were the same age. One had a transcribed record of her baptism in the IGI (The International Genealogical Index, created by the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City) but for the second Jane, there was nothing. It was not until I had squirreled away enough money to travel to England to examine the original record, that I found that my Jane, the one whose family I had so carefully documented, the one whose baptism was listed in the IGI, was indeed, the wrong Jane.  Both girls had been baptized weeks apart from the other one and even listed on the same page of the church’s official baptism record. However, the correct Jane had been left out of the IGI transcriptions, as hers was faded and at the very bottom of the register page, something easily overlooked, and thus left out of the IGI transcribed files. Once I saw her parents’ names, I realized that I had done a wonderful family genealogy of the family of the wrong “Jane.” Two years down the drain, but a lesson learned well.

After an experience such as that, I’d like to help other people prevent such mistakes. However, if they believe that what they copy and paste from a stranger’s tree is valid, just because they got it from a reputable site, or, if they believe that the data someone sent them is completely correct, they will eventually become angry, frustrated, and embarrassed, when they learn otherwise. This gives genealogists and the entire field of genealogy a bad name. This is sad because it is all preventable through education. However, in some cases, can have worse outcomes. 

For example, in the case of family trees that include medical information ( it can be as simple as listing the cause of death) the person with the wrong lineage can ignore medical conditions because they have the wrong family, when they are in fact, part of a different family and are, in reality, at risk. Conversely, they might think that they have a family history of something, when in truth, they do not, wasting time, energy, and money, not to mention accumulating unwarranted stress. Mixed-up medical issues are not the only negative situation that can arise from incorrect information, but it is an example of how risky having the wrong data can be. 

Thus, I have decided to learn everything I can about the correct way to compile genealogical information and I hope to help others find their true family lines.