The Internet is both a boon and a bane to genealogical research. While it is easier to communicate and discover than ever before, it is also easier for lousy research to spread. It seems like bad genealogy goes around further and faster than Charlie Sheen’s tweets.
Do genealogy long enough and you will find some, shall we say, “less than stellar” family trees online. Some are blatantly and obviously wrong. It’s easy to ignore a tree that has a woman born in 1700 giving birth in 1810. What is harder to ignore is something that looks plausible — especially if it’s something we’ve been looking for some length of time. Get desperate enough and one can completely overlook the lack of sources on the tree that was just found. Or, what sometimes happens, someone will add a “theory” to a tree, then someone else reads it and — voilà — it morphs into “fact.”
There are those, such as one of Dick Eastman’s readers, who believe that information on the Internet should “never be trusted.” I have had associates tell me that they won’t post any of their research online “because there is so much junk out there.”
Yes, there is a lot of junk out there. But as the axiom goes, if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.
More and more people are coming to genealogy via the Internet and do virtually (no pun intended) all of their research online. Of course they’re going to find a lot of junk if nobody bothers to post the “good stuff.”
In the days of the Internet before blogs and social media, there were two choices for correcting bad information: contacting the person who posted it (with the hope that they would change it) or have your own online tree or website and post your research. That second option used to be kind of difficult, especially if you were technologically challenged.
Now with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and the like, there is no technological reason why you can’t post your own data. If you can type, you post something online in some form or another. Consider these possibilities:
- Have a blog
- Contribute to a wiki family tree, such as WeRelate
- Contribute to a research wiki, such as the FamilySearch wiki
- Post old family photos on Flickr
- Donate your family tree (either in hard copy or GEDCOM — or both!) to a library and/or genealogical society
- Contribute an article for a genealogical society’s blog or newsletter
Lorine McGinnis Schulze has a great blog post about some erroneous POST family information that’s been floating around cyberspace. She goes point by point what is wrong with what has been taken as “fact.” She then posted her own research — with sources — so that people can see what really is known about the family. What a great example of getting the “good stuff” out there.
It’s easy to discount everything online as junk. But before you throw in the towel, ask yourself this: “Am I part of the solution?”