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04 May 2011

Don't Neglect the Online Trees

Ancestry.com, WorldConnect, FamilySearch, and a variety of other sites have submitted family trees. Virtually all of them contain errors. Some of them contain many errors. But don't ignore them completely. Sometimes even a very careless researcher stumbles upon something that we have overlooked. Don't take anything in the online trees without documenting it elsewhere, but consider the fact that one of them may have the clue that you need.

And some of them may raise your blood pressure when you see the errors.


  1. I have found some valuable information from online trees.

  2. I found a second cousin in Germany from online trees.

  3. Sorry on this one, I have to disagree. Many of your tips are great, but I have wasted SO much time on junk trees when I was starting out. As they say GIGO. Garbage in - Garbage out.

    I prefer to focus on quality research. If there is not documentation with the notation I ignore it. I am not going to use anything that is not confirmed anyway.

    Just my opinion as you can see on my blog http://onwardtoourpast.blogspot.com


  4. I never use the online tree as a source in and of itself. However, if I am really stuck and an online tree has a reference to a location or a date that I don't, I may give it a quick look and see if further research is warranted. I would never use just the online tree as my only reference to something and would never cite it.

    I've also found some online trees that have referred to documents or sources that I had not noticed or found because of how something was indexed or cataloged.

    In some trees, it is quickly clear that the person has made a lot of mistakes and isn't concerned about accuracy--those I don't spend too much time on.

  5. While I see the benefit of using the info as clues, I've found so much bad information on them. Strangely enough, on my own direct family line. I've even tried to contact the people who posted the info just as an act of kindness, but have been unsuccessful. I think people should realize that you can't do all your research online. The whole point of genealogical research is to get out there and search for yourself in person!

  6. I agree to double check the facts. But it is so valuable. I love to hunt up any kind of menber of the family for a small consultation abou the part I am interested in.

    Think of the time your wasting finding all the names and places hits and misses on your own.

    They can't all be that far off. There are a lot of good family researchers out there. Most of us change our data once we see the errors of our ways. Looking at those trees is about the third thing I do. To see names and where they lived etc. When of course.

    The thing that gets me the most is no place of residence mentioned, not even a hunch listed. And those estimations between such and such of a life span. That just kills me.

  7. @MJN I agree. I read all your tips here, but rarely comment. You are 'right on' here. Used correctly, as you nicely present, "a" good source.
    Thanks for stating is properly,


  8. I agree with you on this, and the reason is something akin to "reasonably exhaustive research" - I would call it "turn up and track down/verify/disprove every clue." Yes, the return rate is crummy - maybe once in forty times will you find anything worthwhile - but it does happen. In a couple of cases this approach has also resulted in a productive research relationship with the people who owned the trees - we were able to supplement one another's research and enjoy ourselves into the bargain! And, as you have noted, you can get a clue as to the quality of research that has gone into the different trees.

  9. Using the trees as 'clues' is OK. A date or place may be all we need to find 'real' sources that verify (or disprove) the alleged facts. As for sources - for some reason my GEDCOM's sources will not display correctly at Rootsweb's WorldConnect (one of my favourite sites), so I put a header/footer on my pages there, saying that I will gladly provide source references to anyone who wants to exchange information with me.