How Incorrect “Facts” Multiply in Online Family Trees

Have you ever wondered what the source is for undocumented “facts” found in many online family trees? Well, here is a first-person example of where a “fact” originates and what happens after one or a handful of researchers comes across it.

If you’re a regular reader, you’re aware that I’ve spent almost two years working on cleaning up my genealogy software program. Cleaning up is an all-encompassing term, because it includes updating and adding collateral ancestors in the family tree. Those ancestors have been compiled in about a half dozen Word files in which I’ve traced all known ancestors of several interesting ancestors.

One such ancestor is my Loyalist, James Astle, who married Elizabeth McLane in Schenectady, New York in 1770 and was classed as a refugee on the 1783 passenger lists to Canada.

I descend from James’s son, Daniel, born 1783 in Sorel, Quebec, an early residence of the Astle family after they left New York. Daniel’s wife, Jane, is the subject of this post about supposed “facts.”

My method for updating my Word family histories is to begin with the FamilySearch Family Tree, looking for additional information that is either sourced or for which I can look for sources.

Let me begin by saying I left no stone unturned back in the 1980s when I first started compiling the Astle family information. I even hired a highly regarded New Brunswick researcher to help me. I can definitively say that NO primary document has ever been found that confirms Jane (MNU) Astle’s maiden name. Nothing, nada, zip!!!!

Take a look at the FS Family Tree entry for Daniel Astle:

Next, I took a look at Ancestry family trees:

Notice that the FS Family Tree and the Ancestry Family Trees all point to Jane’s maiden name being Parker. In fact, my Daniel Astle is found in 203 Ancestry trees and a quick browse showed that 14 of the 21 pages included Daniel’s wife’s name and almost every single entry called her Jane Parker. None of the trees – ZERO – cited a primary source. So, this appears to be a mystery to others, but not to me. I – me, myself and I – am the source of this Parker information.

How did this come to be? That answer is quite simple, too. Years ago, in 1994, I donated a copy of my Astle research to the FamilySearch Library. I am proud of that work, which, at the time, was 21 pages long with footnotes citing 114 sources. At some point, one or more researchers read my work and, from it, posted that Jane Parker was the wife of Daniel Astle. However, either their reading comprehension was lacking or they had selective retention because this is what I actually said, clipped from my original text:

The two very important words that readers ignored and copy-and-paste family historians never even read are: CIRCUMSTANTIAL CLUES. I further identified Jane in the following family sketch with a question mark concerning her maiden name:

And that, my readers, is one way that the misinformation rabbits multiply!

4 thoughts on “How Incorrect “Facts” Multiply in Online Family Trees”

  1. Yep, yep, yep…I’ve seen this happen again and again…and people just blindly copying and pasting unverified information. It’s so frustrating and proves Elizabeth Shown Mills’ point that it’s the QUALITY of the sources that matters, not the QUANTITY!

  2. Very important point…we should always read the original and confirm the actual context for ourselves! TY for sharing this example.

  3. It is frustrating when researchers (or should I say name collectors) copy information without revealing their source. And then, they don’t read carefully either, before spreading that information. Great post.

  4. I feel your frustration. I’m helping a prospective member and the entire Ancestry tree they provided a link to has as sources – are you ready? – other Ancestry trees. Not a single other source. I don’t have time to go to all those other trees hoping to find a potential source. When I suggested they do a little more research, they became angry, “Isn’t that your job?” was actually said to me. I don’t remember DAR saying we were employees.

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