Back in January and February 2015, I wrote about the 350+ online family trees for John Whitmer, born 1752 and died 1828 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and parents assigned to him in those trees.
The original count of online family trees for John showed only three with his correct parents, one of which was my own tree. Many had Michael Whitmer and Barbara Oster of Lancaster, PA as his parents, while most of the rest had no parents named at all.
I emailed the 350+ tree owners to share my Whitmer research, which documented the family’s live in Barbelroth, Germany and migration to Frederick County, Maryland about 1755. Since that time, I’ve received replies from about 30, or less than 10%, of the tree owners. Only one person who replied insisted that Michael and Barbara Whitmer were the correct parents and that I was totally wrong. My answer was that I would love to see documentation to prove me wrong, but then never heard another word.
By 4 February 2015, the new tree count showed nine trees with John’s correct parents, Johannes Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz.
I hadn’t thought about my experiment for a while, but Randy Seaver jarred my memory with a post on 31 July 2015 – Lesson Learned Again – Don’t Trust Online Family Trees, which, in fact, was an update of another of his own posts on the topic, published on 24 April 2012. Randy lamented the fact that it has taken so long to bring the number of online trees with correct parental information for his Susanna Page all the way up to 1%!!!
Seeing as six months have passed since my own experiment, I was spurred on to take a new count of the online trees with correct parents for John Whitmer. There are now a grand total of thirteen correct trees, including my own. There are still 201 online trees that name John Whitmer’s parents as Michael Whitmer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
That was after my 350 emails to all those tree owners with links to my completely sourced published article outlining John’s family and ancestral home in Germany.
I totally agree with Randy’s wise advice – don’t blindly trust online family trees. Do your own research and verify dates, places and other factual information. Contact a tree owner if they have information posted that you don’t have about a family member or if their information doesn’t match your own research.
Many are put off by trees that have few or no sources cited on them. That doesn’t bother me at all – my own tree has few sources because I choose to keep that information in the Notes section of my software and I don’t use the source templates. My reasoning is that my online tree is totally there as “cousin bait.” I want to hear from distant cousins and if everything I have is already out there online, I think it is less likely that I will hear from others.
My advice: Reach out to others, ask questions, share resources, prove your lines and, if someone emails you documented research about your ancestor, take the time to read it through and, please, update your own family tree!