Three years ago, I decided to try an experiment.
My husband’s 5X great grandfather, John Whitmer, was born in Barbelroth, Germany and emigrated to Frederick County, Maryland when he was a young boy in the 1750s.
As an adult, he moved westward, first to Botetourt County, Virginia and then, finally, to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where he died in 1828.
I wrote a long article published by the Kentucky Genealogical Society, which won second prize that year for best work, proving John’s parentage and supported records found by encompassing his FAN (family, associates, neighbors) club. He was the son of Johannes Wittmer/Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz, who settled in Fredericktown, Maryland.
John Whitmer and his wife, Catherine, MAIDEN NAME UNKNOWN, (in spite of many online trees calling her Catherine Valde Tarwater) have hundreds, if not thousands of descendants today.
Understandably, there are many (almost 400) public member trees on Ancestry that include John Whitmer. However, I noticed back in 2015 that most of them either had no known parents for John Whitmer or they attributed him to Michael Whitmer and Barbara Oster of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with absolutely no source citations.
My experiment consisted of emailing all of the tree owners who had current contact information and sharing a link to my KGS article, which I posted on my blog, and politely encouraged each to read my article for documentation concerning his origins.
First, here is my republished article from 2015:
I should have known better, but out of curiosity, I decided to take a look today to see how things were looking. While there were 292 trees in 2015 and 382 trees in 2016, today there are but 183 trees (AND MINE IS NOT ONE OF THEM) coming up in the Ancestry search engine. That must be because there are no documents in their databases that prove his origins and I refuse to cite another Ancestry member tree as my source. I guess the other 109 tree owners won’t do that either, so many trees don’t turn up as hits.
The statistics remain just as dismal today.
2015 – 292 public member trees with 6 having John’s correct origins
2016 – 382 public member trees with 12 having his correct origins
2018 – 183 public member trees with 6 having his correct origins
So, in 2015, about 2% of the trees were accurate. That jumped up to a whopping 3% correct in 2016. The accuracy level remains at 3% today. I do wonder, though, how many trees are hidden away that are correct, but not showing up as hits in the list?
As for those who have Michael Whitmer and wife Barbara of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as John’s parents, I counted 96, yes, 96!!!! trees with that totally incorrect information. Not a one of them has a single document cited as a source. Most have a census record or two from 1810 and 1820 and/or Ancestry trees listed as the only sourced.
It is very sad that so many people don’t do their own research, they just copy, paste and merge. Incorrect information proliferates and multiplies. 50% of John Whitmer’s member trees have the wrong parents listed for him with no sources. A beginning researcher might think that there is safety in numbers – over half the trees have the same information, so it must be correct, right??? Nope, wrong. Very wrong.
It is even sadder that people who are handed a documented, fully sourced study still don’t bother to correct their online trees.
Researcher beware when digging for information in online family trees!