Thursday, December 27, 2012

Genealogists Who Get it Wrong

She loves genealogy. She is proud of her family. She spends hours on her family tree every day. She faithfully posts every photo and every scrap of information she comes across and makes it all available on her public online family tree.
And she is wrong about 75% of the time.
This lovely elderly lady is the wife of my grandfather’s cousin and she is passionate about genealogy – both her family and her husband’s family. I love how excited she gets over a single date or photograph. But as long as someone somewhere said it was so, she accepts it as fact and places it on her tree and forges on to the next thing.
Whenever she posts something I find out about it because her additions show up as those ubiquitous shaking leaves on my family tree. Sometimes they are my own photos that I have posted (why, oh why, can’t Ancestry make their notification database smart enough to know that I am the original poster?)
But other times the information or photos that go up are flat out wrong. She has posted photos of people I have never seen before and labeled them as my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. She has blessed my mother with additional siblings that she never knew she had. And she has married off my aunts to the wrong husbands.
Uncle Jim and a lady who is NOT a long-lost sibling!
Each time one of these errors shows up I am faced with the same dilemma: do I correct her or ignore her?
          Part of me says “Let the lady alone.” Who do I think I am to correct a woman old enough to be my grandmother? Clearly she enjoys what she is doing and what harm is it that she messes things up?
But that’s the problem. There is harm when she messes things up. Not to me or my family. We know who is who and who is married to whom. No worries there. But we all are faced with those distant relations that we don’t know but want to include in our family trees. And so we turn to the work of others for assistance.
If you were taught to do your genealogy like a historian does his or her history, you would take one look at this lady’s tree and run from it. There is so little documentation for the things she states as facts that no one should take her tree seriously. And I imagine most folks don’t pay much attention to the words on her tree. (I have, however, recently run into a “professional genealogist” who blithely accepted everything on an undocumented family tree and passed it on to her client as “fact” so sometimes I have to wonder about the folks out there who claim to know what they are doing. But that is a story for a different blog.)
But those photographs are so alluring. To be able to see relatives and ancestors and put faces to names is one of the joys of doing family history. And little old ladies are notorious for knowing who everyone is in every photo. So she must be right about who that woman is with my uncle. Right?
So every time this sweet woman posts a photograph I feel obligated to correct her. Tell her that isn’t my grandfather. Those aren’t my aunts. We never had any twins. And so on.
I feel mean and picky every time I do it, because no matter how nicely I say it, I am still saying “Wrong!”
But I just remind myself that there are many folks out there who will appreciate getting correct information, even if they never know how close they were to getting the wrong stuff.
What do you do when you find a distant relative’s incorrect family tree? Do you contact them and talk it out, or do you leave it alone?

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