Like many others, I will take time to click on the green leaf that’s attached to an ancestor or family member in my family tree on Ancestry.com. I am often led to others’ family trees who have claimed my ancestor/family member as their own. Sometimes the claim is accurate. Unfortunately, many times my ancestor/family member is not theirs at all – two different people with the same first and last names. They failed to verify the connection, their family trees are then consumed with errors, and those errors are duplicated via those green leaves. Sadly, this is a growing phenomenon with online family trees, especially on Ancestry.com. Genealogy research seems to be becoming a name collection game – people getting a thrill at seeing their family tree expand, copying others' family trees – errors and all – and not verifying the information. Next thing you know, you have numerous incorrect family trees out there. Don’t get me wrong, I like the green leaves. I am just cautious with them.
Unfortunately, inaccurate family trees may mean that many people are “digesting” and passing on false information about a family’s history. I say this because I have personally heard others, who consider themselves as the family historian, say something like, “I have been researching my family’s history for several years and have traced back to the 1700s.” Then, after further conversation with that person, I realize that the researcher has never turned off the computer from viewing online family trees, along with cursory and non-analytical views of census records, and has never visited any local, state or federal Archives, genealogy libraries, family history centers, cemeteries, courthouses, or other places for records or clues of verification that are not online. The researcher has also not actively explored the many other digitized records on FamilySearch.org, fold3.com, and other sites that can add to their reasonably exhaustive search. Additionally, the researcher has not even taken the time to read books, blogs, articles, etc., or has not viewed any webinars, videos, or other online resources on conducting effective genealogy research. Unfortunately, “researching” seems to have become a name-matching sport for many.
My blog posts are usually about how I solved a genealogical mystery or made a cool discovery via genealogy research and/or DNA, to serve as a case study for researchers to learn from. However, I was compelled to write this post because of a recent dialogue that I found troubling. Last week, I had an online “debate” with a young lady who claimed my great-grandmother's brother, Robert “Bob” Ealy Jr., as her ancestor. Her family was from Craven County, North Carolina and eventually migrated to New York. No records were attached to her family tree. My Ealy family is clearly in Leake County, Mississippi and had been there since c. 1835, when my great-great-grandfather Robert “Big Bob” Ealy’s enslaver, William W. Eley, brought him to Mississippi from Nash County, North Carolina. But because the two men had the same name, she attached my great-granduncle Bob Jr., his parents, and grandparents as her ancestors too and defended her reasoning.
One of her reasons was because she has DNA matches with people either with the Ealy surname or have an Ealy in their tree, as well as my surname, too. My surname (Collier) came from my Dad's adoptive father, George Collier. My family tree, that’s attached to my and my Dad’s DNA profiles, shows my Dad’s biological father, Hulen Kennedy (grandson of Big Bob Ealy). In essence, she concluded that Uncle Bob Ealy Jr. maintained two families at the same time – one in Leake County, Mississippi and one over 800 miles away in Craven County, North Carolina – and died in New York City, while I have documented Uncle Bob Jr., from his birth around 1855, in Leake County, Mississippi, until his death on Oct. 28, 1939, in Leake County, Mississippi. I had found Uncle Bob’s death certificate at the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History over 15 years ago. She seemed to have presumed that my information was inaccurate. Sadly, as of this blog post, she has not corrected her family tree. My concern is that many, who are in her Ealy family, may believe that they also descend from Grandpa Big Bob, and that’s certainly not the case at all. Many have my great-great-grandparents as their ancestors, and they aren’t.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take time to include some tips with this blog post. Genealogy research is a broad subject, so feel free to offer other tips in the Comments section:
TIP #1: Don’t assume that someone with the same name as your ancestor is probably yours, too. If the locations don’t match, seek verification, i.e, direct evidence and/or a collection of circumstantial evidence that proves that he or she is actually your ancestor. Even if there's a location match, still seek verification. Verify, verify, verify!
TIP #2: A woman, who is reported as the wife to the head of household, was often not the mother to all of the children in the household or to the older, grown children in their own households. Try to locate a record that documents the parents’ names in order to verify. Analyze the censuses, marriage records, cohabitation records, or other sources to determine if she became the wife prior to a child’s (or children’s) birth.
Especially apply this tip with former-enslaved people who are found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and who likely “jumped the broom” into holy matrimony during slavery. For example, Grandpa Robert “Big Bob” Ealy had a daughter, Mary York (wife of Jordan York), around 1840, prior to “jumping the broom” with my great-great-grandmother, Jane Parrott, around 1845. According to my family’s oral history, Mary was known as “Aunt Sis” York, who was Big Bob’s daughter only. The identity of Aunt Sis’s mother is unknown. But since Grandma Jane is Grandpa Big Bob’s documented wife in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, many family trees incorrectly show Grandma Jane as Aunt Sis’s mother, even though Grandma Jane was around 10 years older than Aunt Sis.
TIP #3: If someone’s online family tree on Ancestry.com doesn’t have censuses and other records attached to an individual to document his/her existence and connection, don’t add that individual to your family tree as your ancestor, too. Verify, verify, verify!
TIP #4: Don’t immediately assume that because you are a DNA match to a person or individuals who have a particular surname in their online family trees, that it confirms your ancestral connection to someone with that same surname. It doesn’t. First, people can be related via other lines. Secondly, not everyone with a particular surname are actually related. Thirdly, that person’s family tree might be wrong as two left shoes. Do the research!
TIP #5: A computer program can’t determine who your ancestors are. Therefore, all of the green leaf hints should be analyzed. Verify, verify, verify!
TIP #6: Try contacting the creator of a particular family tree to verify if their ancestor/family member is indeed your ancestor, especially if it’s not obvious. At times, you might even discover that their displayed ancestor is not their ancestor at all.
In other words – verify, verify, verify! It deserved repeating….