Tuesday 29 January 2019

Online Family Trees Revisited

I have written before about reviewing information on family trees published online.
·         9 Sep 2014, More About Asa McDaniel on the FamilySearch Tree
·         16 Sep 2014, Finding Asa McDaniel in Online Trees
·         4 Oct 2014, The Value of Online Databases

I have to say that, from my experiences, it has not always been enlightening.

My test subject for looking at such trees or databases is generally one of my great-grandfathers, Asa Harvey McDaniel. We have a great deal of information about him and his immediate family, most of it assembled by my aunt decades ago. I have added some information to the tree as well over the years. There are many online family trees that contain information about the family. Some of the contributors are not actual members of our family and most appear to have just copied data from other trees. That, as I have reiterated, makes it difficult to discuss results with anyone who has done original work. Many of them publish excerpts from work shared by my aunt in the 1970s, without citing that source, incidentally, which makes you wonder about the depth of their own work.

I was reminded of the data on FamilySearch trees in a short note in one of the many email newsletters I get, labelled, Getting Started:  FamilySearch Launches Powerful New Simplified Search. The whole article can be read on the FamilySearch Blog. So, I figured, what the heck, why not go see if there was anything new about Asa and the McDaniel family.

I filled out the form with the basic information about Asa and clicked Search.

Up came a page with all the references the library has for McDaniel, and specifically, Asa McDaniel. Looking at the summary page, it is initially quite impressive how much data there is that might apply. The presentation is also a marked improvement with what we used to see. But is the data good?

There are currently 72,515 people with the McDaniel name in the shared Family Tree, according to FamilySearch: 52,633 in the USA, 829 in Ireland (?) and 432 in Canada. They further break it down by BMD documents, Censuses and Lists, Migration and Naturalization, Military, Probate and Court, and Other. TMy first impression is that no one would ever have time to go through the 22,327 documents that mention Asa Harvey McDaniel!

Further along on the opening page are three individuals that FamilySearch concludes are the “top people” in the tree. Two are definitely not my great-grandfather. The other is our man. That reference has a copy of the same photo I have and which I shared with several people. But on FamilySearch the photographer’s name and the location where the photo was taken have been cropped. Somehow, I don’t think this is right. The name of the contributor of the photo is not one I recognized so I contacted her to see where she fit in the family tree. She is a cousin and got her copy of the photo from her grandmother. We have made a connection and can move forward to share data.

Anyway, it was time to go see if anything had changed since last I looked at the tree. Some of the names of Asa’s children still don’t match what is in my tree, so they need to be checked. There is missing census data for him. I looked closer at what is there for my grandmother, one of Asa’s daughters. It is mostly correct but does not have all the information about her children, particularly my mother. Most of the relevant censuses in which Gramma is recorded are not shown. One is totally wrong.

The most egregious error that I always have found in the past concerns Asa’s father and it is still on the shared tree. Many family historians, in most databases, show a man named William Solomon McDaniel (1774/1782-1857) as Asa’s father. The problem is that no document we have shows my 2nd great-grandfather with a middle name. It is also clear from census data that he was still alive in 1860, and still living in Virginia, with his daughter and granddaughter, in fact, and right beside (same farm?) as son, Asa. That record indicates his birth year as 1778.

William Solomon is shown on many trees as dying in Clinton, Ohio or Clinton, Virginia, in 1857, so the man could not have been in Virginia in 1860. No document has been presented to confirm either place. I have pointed that inconsistency out to many people over the years, but the errors have never been fixed. On some of the trees he married Elizabeth Pendleton on 26 January 1801 in Amherst County, Virgina. No documents have been shown for that marriage. Our William married Elizabeth Gentles on 26 December 1801, in Frederick County, Maryland. We have that certificate. Elizabeth Pendleton (1787-1839) does not appear to be on the FamilySearch shared tree. You can see where the confusion comes from. In my opinion, there were two different men named William McDaniel who both married women named Elizabeth, possibly in the same year. But their life stories are much different.

So . . . with my Asa test today, the same mis-information is still on the FamilySearch shared tree. There are some other sources on his file which might be worth looking at. I am not sure the basic data or dates I have will change, though.

I did one other test as well. I searched another of my 2nd great-grandfathers, this time on my father’s side. John Shepheard was born in 1830 in Cornwood, Devon, England, and died in Torquay, Devon, England, in 1901. He is not listed on the FamilySearch shared tree at all. That is not a big problem for me as I have all the parish information and can show Shepheard generations back into the 1600s with a high degree of confidence. It appears no one else is researching this family, so the FamilySearch shared tree remains very much behind.

John’s son, James Shepheard (1865-1940), my great-grandfather, is on the tree but shown with the wrong parent. James’s son, James Pearson Shepheard (1891-1965), my grandfather, is on the tree as well, with some information but far from complete.

My father is also listed, again with little information, but that’s ok. Unfortunately, my father’s younger sister is shown as deceased when she is still very much alive. For that reason, her name should not be shown at all, in my opinion. Information about her death was only added last year, but I do not recognize the person who did so. One might conclude they are not related to us.

The FamilySearch shared tree has certainly undergone some modifications and improvements over the years, but it still fails my basic tests, so it is quite inadequate to me, I’m afraid. And I do not have time or the interest to continually go through the database to alert people to the mistakes anymore.

On a more positive note, this trip into the FamilySearch tree allowed me the opportunity to connect with two cousins I did not know, and who are studying one particular common family line in more detail. So, I guess that is the main benefit of shared online family trees. I expect the new cousins and I may be able to add to each other’s family lines.

There is my rant about online trees for today!