previously wrote about putting
family trees online as a way of enhancing the search for information as well as
to share the data with other researchers. I haven’t made a lot of progress yet
in that regard but it is still on the list of things to do.
have looked at family trees posted on a few websites such as Ancestry in order to see what other family
historians have found, especially concerning some of the lines I have not
researched in detail. In many cases I have found distantly-related cousins who
were chasing other family branches. Some have been valuable in providing
additional data. Some have not! There are new trees being added regularly so
doing a new search every few weeks can be worthwhile.
is very annoying and disconcerting is the fact that so many people just copy
names willy-nilly from other trees without checking facts. I have contacted a
few tree owners, both public and private, to ask about their data. Few – very
few – have any documents to back up their names, dates and places. Another
problem is that people come and go on both subscription and public sites. If
they have let their subscriptions lapse, or changed their contact information
then it is impossible to ask them about their trees.
an example, I normally search for a great-grandfather, Asa McDaniel, about whom
I have quite a bit of data – his birth date, birth place, death date, death
place, parents’ names, children’s names, census records, etc. Most of the information
came to me from my aunt who researched the hard way – by post and personal
visits to court houses and record offices – in the 1960s and 1970s. She
collected and passed along copies of many of the important documents, including
birth, marriage, death, land and census records.
Ancestry’s search page for Asa McDaniel (1827-1901)
Ancestry and other websites I start with putting the basic information about
Asa into the search form. The latest search yielded 116,035 trees on Ancestry with
the man listed!
Part of page one
of Ancestry’s Family Trees which have Asa McDaniel (1827-1901) listed
task then is to sort through them to see if there is anything new. (I’ll never
get through all 116,035 of the current ones.) Often the trees are focused on
another family entirely and any overlap with mine is incidental. Early on in my
review of Ancestry trees, I came across one tree that looked interesting. I
contacted the person who had assembled the tree, who turned out to be a 2nd
cousin, once removed. She was a descendant of one of the brothers of my
maternal grandmother. She appeared to have some interesting information,
including photos, from her line so I thought this might be a worthwhile
contact. What I found was that there was a lot of unsupported data on her tree
and some outright factual errors.
Selected family tree
showing Asa McDaniel with his spouse, children and parents
most glaring error on this tree is the information about Asa’s father, William
McDaniel. Asa’s father never left Virginia. He died there after 1860 and we are
pretty sure of that because he is on the 1860 census, still living on the his
farm with one of his daughters and a granddaughter who was the child of another
daughter. It also shows he was born in
Maryland in 1778. The Ancestry tree, along with many others on the website,
shows him moving to Ohio and dying there in 1857. The tree actually shows the
death year of 1857 and the information from the census that he was alive and
well in Virginia in 1860 which logic is really hard to follow.
were at least two men named William McDaniel, both born about the same time and
who both lived in Virginia for a time. The one in use on many trees – born in
Virginia – is not the man I recognize as my 2nd great-grandfather. The
Virginia-born individual is likely the one who died in Ohio.
of individuals have been added to many of the trees as ancestors of William
McDaniel. By picking the wrong person to start with, though, the errors on the
tree are compounded. At this point in time, we only suspect that William was
born in Maryland around 1778. That information is from the 1860 census. The
1850 census indicates he was born in Virginia in 1782. Our inclination is to
use the 1860 data as it is more recent and because the copy we have of his
marriage record shows he was married in Maryland.
1860 United States
census – page shows family of William McDaniel, age 82, farmer, born in
Maryland, with daughter Elizabeth McDaniel and granddaughter Elizabeth Painter. (Source citation: Year - 1860; Census Place - Western district, Washington, Virginia; Roll - M653_1383; Page - 569; Image - 211; Family History Library film - 805383)
cousin I referred to continues to add names to her tree regularly, along with
coats of arms, photos and other material. She claims to have traced the McDaniel
family back over 1,000 years: to McDonnel ancestors, who were basically
nobility in Ireland; across the breadth of Scotland with the MacDonald clan; to
Rognvald Ranald Somarledasson, King of the Isles, Lord of Argyll; and back to
Ireland, to Guthorm Ivarsson, King of Dublin, born in 877. It just gets silly
after a while! And all of that from the wrong William McDaniel to start with!
have tried to tell people that their data is wrong or inconsistent. Some
listen; most do not!
family trees on Ancestry have a photo of Asa McDaniel shown with two of his
granddaughters. This is actually a picture I sent to a couple of cousins,
including the one who has the tree back 1,000 years. That photo has since been
reproduced on dozens of other trees by other tree-owners, without attribution!
I am confident that the photo is of Asa, because the photo came from my aunt
and she knew him. We are not sure who the little girls in the picture are,
though. I also know the photos came from me as all of the copies have the same dirt
marks, scratches and imperfections that are on my original. But all the people
who are using it have no idea as to whether it is the man because they have
never asked and certainly do not know where the photo originated. Many trees
also have notes that were written by my aunt back in the 1970s, again
reproduced without any reference as to who wrote them or whether they are
correct. I know who wrote the stories because I have a couple of her hand-typed
Photo of Asa McDaniel,
taken in Oklahoma with, apparently, two of his granddaughters as yet unidentified
in all, one has to be very careful of the information contained on family trees
posted online. Rarely is supporting information given and too often sources are
not listed. I am still undecided whether I will post my tree on Ancestry.
Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program,
handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has
published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past
Editor of Chinook, the quarterly
journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides
genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated. Census records
are the property of the United States National Archives and Records Administration. The census image was downloaded