Category Archives: Online Family Trees

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:





SourcedTreesCrop5 SourcedTreesCrop6


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 last 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.

German Origins of John Whitmer – One Year Later

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!

My John Whitmer Family Tree Experiment – Update

The last few days have been interesting. If you read my posts on January 5-6 and 7 this week, I decided to contact all the people who had online family trees that contained John Whitmer who died in 1828 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

John Whitmer, Page 61

First, in reviewing the trees, I originally counted 358 separate family trees on one site. Next, I sent individual messages to each person hosting the tree. Along the way, I recognized some obvious duplications of hosts – 66 to be exact and, even with that, I am sure there were several people who received at least two messages from free.  That reduced the number of individuals hosting trees to 292.

Interestingly, I came across three other trees whose hosts have chosen to not allow anyone to contact them. That left 289 tree hosts to whom I have written. Happily, most of the hosts had logged in to Ancestry within the last month and many within the last few days. I would estimate that 10-15% last logged in over a year ago. Those people may no longer have an active subscription.

I have received nineteen replies. One person said John was a collateral line that hadn’t been researched and they hadn’t had time to prune the tree. Another was actually descended from Michael and Barbara Whitmer and had erroneously added my John to their family. A couple others replied that they will look at the information and thanked me. Thirteen are direct descendants and mostly said that this line had either been a brick wall or they hadn’t yet researched it and seemed genuinely pleased to have all this new information about John’s origins.

One person wrote and said thank you, but they have done their own research and will keep what they have (which is wrong). I asked if they would share any documentation they had, but none has yet been offered. . . .

One wanted me to re-explain a three day post in a separate email and a second person simply wrote “I need more info.” They both got replies with this blog address.

I have already learned a bit myself about the way that some other people choose to research. Everyone has his/her own methods, which is fine, but I guess I don’t see the point in adding a lot of unverified information to my tree, not having checked any of the facts for myself, and then having to unlink/delete a lot of wrong data.  That seems like a lot of extra work, not to mention the fact that once something is on the internet, it is impossible to completely erase it.

I will post a final update in early February. I am most curious to see what changes are evident in the family trees four weeks later.