Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do Your Own Research

I've been working on this genealogy thing for about two weeks now and it's been very interesting.  In one branch of my family tree, I'm related to Scottish Lairds.  In another, I got all the way back to a guy who was born in England circa 1400. 

At least I think I did.

You see, I discovered something yesterday that I probably should've already known.  You can't necessarily trust the information other people have put into their family trees.  And just because lots of people have the same information, it doesn't make the info correct.

For instance, I found a William Williams who was born in 1622.  Sounds pretty good.  I traced family to family to family getting to him.  And then I realized the tree I was tracing through had a glaring error.  It showed little Willie's parents -- both of whom died before he was born (Dad in 1618 and Mom in 1614.)

Vampires?  Alien abduction and implantation?  Zombie birth?

So, I shook my head and moved to the next tree.  Same error.  In fact, the next twenty trees had the exact same error.  Seriously.  I had to call the kid upstairs to verify that I wasn't insane.  At which point, I gave up trying to bash through the wall of idiocy and took a break.

Important lesson that: Just because a group of people all have the same information doesn't mean the information's right. 

Which leads to another lesson: Do your own research rather than riding on the backs of questionable data sources.

Sure, it takes a lot longer for me to trace each family member by reading every Census form and extrapolating if they have the right birthdays, places and family members to confirm that the August Meissner I found is in fact my great-grandfather (or, in this case, that Agust Meismer is really August Meissner).  But it's better than thinking I'm related to zombies who were having babies eight years after they died.

And verifying your data also means you won't have any glaring errors in your writing. 

(See how I snuck that in there?  Heh.)

How do you feel about finding glaring errors in your work?  What about finding glaring errors in the text of a book you just bought? 


  1. When reading... I guess it depends on what kind of error you're talking about. I usually don't notice historical errors or things like that, but I do notice grammar issues for some reason (always easier to notice someone else's than mine!).

    I'm interested in tracing my family back also. How are you doing it? I love that show "who do you think you are" and I notice they use sometimes (but hardly at all, which makes me think it might not be thorough enough??).

  2. Yep, I use and it's a lot more thorough than I hoped for - as long as you don't rely solely on other people's trees. I think they don't use it too much on the show because wading through all that information is too boring for TV.

  3. How true that all research must be cross referenced with factual information. Almost makes me want to write a blog in which I align myself with someone like Marilyn Monroe. Do you think anyone would believe I was her great grand-daughter? I have the dress and the air vents to prove it. :P