Pet Peeve – “Sourced” Online Trees

After recently researching the two Jonathan Hills of Prudence Island, Rhode Island, I decided I needed to vent again for a minute. It’s about that big subscription site that only indexes family trees with “sources.”

I guess that all depends on what one’s definition is of a “source.” Mine does not include other family trees (that also have no sources for their information) or titles of vast collections of (possibly user-submitted) data which, likewise, has no visible path to real records.

Jonathan Hill, born about 1657, likely on Prudence Island, is on 914 family trees. As I mentioned in my posts, the name of his wife is unknown – not even her first name. His father, also Jonathan Hill, was married to Mary (maiden name unknown).

Some of the family trees have no wife named for Jonathan Jr. and/or no names for either of his parents. However, the majority of the trees have Jonathan Sr. married to Mary Basset, Mary Sharwood, Mary Hill Basset or Mary Short.

The wife of Jonathan Jr. is listed as (mostly) Elizabeth Holmes, but also as Elizabeth Gates Holes, Helen Gale and Elizabeth Hail (Hale), the last of whom is likely the wife of Jonathan Jr.’s son, also named Jonathan.

What are the “sources” for this information? Take your pick:


Which of these would you consider sources? I would trust only two – U.S., New England Marriages Prior to 1700, which is Torrey’s well respected work. What exactly does Torrey say about marriages for the two Jonathans?

Jonathan (Senior) and wife Mary (Maiden name unknown)

Jonathan (his son) and wife (Unknown)

I have not found any newer research that further identifies these ladies.

What about Mary Sharwood as the wife of the senior Jonathan? The majority of family trees had her listed as the mother of Jonathan born about 1657. Well, Torrey has her listed in his book, too, as Mary SHARSWOOD.:

Jonathan Hill, born 1674 & Mary Sharswood, born 1672
of New London, Connecticut

This Mary was born in 1672, so she obviously isn’t the mother of Jonathan born in 1657. Also, this Jonathan and Mary Hill lived in New London, Connecticut, not Prudence Island or anywhere else in Rhode Island, for that matter.

The second source I would trust, because I looked into it, is highlighted in purple in the image above – Massachusetts, Marriages 1633-1850. This database is apparently the digitization of the Massachusetts Vital Records series created in the early 1900s. Here is the entry for Jonathan Hill:

Jonathan Hill & Elesebath Hail were married october ye 23:1707

This marriage took place in Swansea, Bristol County, Massachusetts. If it pertains to a Rhode Island Jonathan Hill, it seems much more likely that this is the marriage of the son of Jonathan (born c1657), also named Jonathan, who was born c1685.

So much for the “sourced” family trees on line. Vent done.

7 thoughts on “Pet Peeve – “Sourced” Online Trees”

  1. I agree. Another tree is no source. If a person goes to another tree and looks up the sources that tree lists and finds a good source then that is what the source is. I also distrust “complied” lists from other sources. We need to get as close to the original source as what we can. Although when dealing with compiled lists taken from German church records I have went with researching the individual who did the translation and deciding the person was a reputable researcher.

  2. Upon occasion, I have messaged owners of Ancestry trees to ask about how they know of parents of a certain brick wall ancestor of mine. I actually have had responses that say: “I found the parents in another Ancestry tree.” When a bunch of trees have the same thing, you don’t know who got what questionable fact from where. Drives me nuts!

  3. OMG! I had the same rant last night about the new ancestry app We’re Related. How do they get those common ancestors. I’m a fairly decent researcher and they have parents I can’t find anywhere!! I feel your frustration!

  4. Terrific post, Linda. I, too, hate it that trees are listed as “sources.” And the creators of the AGBI often just made some stuff up, such as attributing an age in 1750s to persons who are listed in a “patriot index” . . .who could have been in their 90s at the time. Arrrghh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.