Exactly one year ago, I began my John Whitmer experiment.
A quick recap – in the 1990’s I had researched and proven the German family origins of John Whitmer (1752-1828) of Frederick County, Maryland and Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. John has thousands of descendants, but a check of online family trees turned up 357 trees. 355 of them either had no parents for John Whitmer or incorrectly identified them.
I emailed the online tree owners with information about John’s origins and a link to my blog posts, where I typed the text of my published research into a multi-part series, with complete citations for all of my sources.
I posted updates a couple of times during the year, but with the 2016 New Year upon us, my Whitmer experiment crossed my mind and I decided to take another look at the online family trees.
Last year, I took the time to sort out and eliminate trees which were obviously duplicates (with earlier and later versions) posted by the same person. This year, with no plans to manually email all those tree owners again, I didn’t even attempt sorting out duplicate trees with the same owner.
I received a number of comments about the progress of my experiment, with several people saying that even three months might not be long enough for some people to have time to update their trees.
Well, a year has now gone by and I’d say unless someone had major life issues, they would have found a moment to at least enter or correct the names of John’s parents.
The one year results are as depressing as the three month results, but there is a tiny bit of improvement.
The current count of total online trees on one particular site, which shall remain unnamed, is 383. One of those is mine, so we’ll go with a total of 382. Remember, duplicate trees have not been eliminated from this count and I have no way of knowing whether any new trees have been posted during this year.
Well, there are now a total of 12 – yes, 12 – trees that correctly show John’s parents as Johannes Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz. One of those trees is mine, so that means11 of the hundreds of people I emailed updated their trees. I think I had thank yous from about 9 people who said they would correct their information at the three month mark.
This is a great lesson in not trusting information online. Many of the people with online trees are “name” collectors. They don’t research on their own and seem to blindly accept information already posted. I provided documented sources linking the Whitmer family of Frederick County, Maryland to the Whitmers and other allied families of Barbelroth, Germany. Even with documentation, only about 3% (of last year’s 357 tree count) updated their family trees. That is not only depressing, it’s kind of scary.
End of the experiment!