"North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000" on Ancestry a good source?

+13 votes

On March 26, 2016, Ancestry added the following book to its database:

"North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000"

The description is: 

This collection contains genealogical research privately published in nearly one thousand family history books. The primary focus is on North American families from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially those with Revolutionary War and Colonial ties. Some European family histories are also included, with emphasis on connections to nobility.

The following details, when available, have been indexed from the books in this collection. Additional information may be found by viewing the images of the published books.

Indexed Details

  • Name
  • Birth date and place
  • Baptism date and place
  • Marriage date and place
  • Death date and place
  • Burial date and place
  • Names of parents and spouses

I am wondering whether this should be viewed as a reliable source.  I know many family histories are not well-documented, but others are very valuable.

I appreciate your input.


in Genealogy Help by Lisa Javorka G2G2 (2.2k points)
retagged by Robin Lee
I work with the Daughters of American Revolution and sources for ancestry.   Just a quick comment on this source.  Many of these ancestries have been proven incorrect or lacking in proof since this information was published.   While current information from DAR is valuable, this data becomes one of those "good place to start looking" kinds of sources.
well, I don't use Ancestry personally, but they tend to try and appropriate various sources as being their own, for example the Drouin Collection, which is an independent source in fact, gets cited by them with them claiming authorship then going on to say ''Original data: Gabriel Drouin......''  Ugh.  I tend to put Ancestry links as a separate item after the sources section, for those who have a subscription there to look up if they are so inclined.  It's similar with their ''source'' of Edmund West ...., whoever he was.
A DAR 'helper' once told me to consider any information found as a 'rumor or clue' until you find documented proof that the information is accurate.
Please note that this is a question from 2016.

5 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer
I just read one of these today for my great great grandparents.  Susan Ellis was listed as Susan Alice  and George William was listed as William Henry.  So based on that alone, I'm not too keen to use them in the future.
by Susan Fitzmaurice G2G6 Mach 5 (57.4k points)
selected by Charles Brewster
+17 votes
Ugh. Not another one. Why do they keep doing this? Unless the individual entries have better source information, then this "collection" is no better than their other collections of user-submitted data. We have no way to identify the quality of the original "privately published" family histories without seeing them.
by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (822k points)
They keep doing it because they want to make the all mighty dollar. They don't care about good sourcing.
I've checked this out last week it is a compilation from good sources like Dawes-Gates, Gary Boyd's CT Families, etc - you can tell exactly which source if you compare them side-by-side because they have identical typos. The problem is there is no citation to the source at all so it is useless as a source. But I did double check many of the entries in it and in most cases it was 95% accurate with some obvious typos. Still it had information I did not have such as a death date for an individual - so I took that info and plugged it into GenealogyBank and bam! That's my source. I would not have found that death date otherwise and now I have on Obituary. So yes you can make use of a reference that has no sources but mostly to help you locate and identify a real source. Don't use it as a source. I think of it this way - if an Angel came to me and told me they would give me the genealogy of the entire human race that was 100% accurate but completely unsourced would I say no? I would snatch that up! Because if the data is good you will find the source. But I do lament that Ancestry persists in the cult of "data collections" instead of introducing their users to the fabulous card catalog they have there. The other day someone told me that TAG must be mistaken because they have a millennium file that says otherwise! Oh dear. They have an incredible library of recent copyright works and you just have to find them all and hot link them in Excel for easy access. No they don't have it all but there are some really high quality well sourced books waiting to get tapped. So I'm not disagreeing with your view that they could have done better and this is not a source. But it can be used to help you locate a date or two and then use those dates to find a source. Or it may help you find a maiden name and then you can cross reference that to a family genealogy and double check it. Not so elegant but it works. I'm pragmatic.
Very good reminder, Roland. Thank you.
To R.B. Thanks for your detailed comment.  As someone who is a relative beginner in finding good sources, your comment is very helpful. I definitely want to add correct information. Frustrating that too many do not seem to care about accuracy.
Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it, and do my sourcing with more than one record. I have found much on ancestry and have sorced that info much as you do.
+14 votes
Well seeing as it is a collection of family history books you have to take each one as it's own. You can treat the collection as a library, but do not source to it. You will have to look at the books you are grabbing the information from.
by Davian Pfeiff G2G6 (7.5k points)
That assumes the ancestry source includes the name of the original source, more than just "genealogical research privately published..." Doesn't look like it.
The absence of identifying information on the individual "family histories" is possibly the worst aspect of this collection. They've taken a lot of published genealogies that have titles, authors, and publication dates, and bundled them together under this uninformative title -- and the citation information doesn't include the actual source. The collection is a mixed bag. Anyone who uses it needs to dig to figure out what they are reading and identify it properly.
Using Google, one is often able to track down the individual family history book referenced by Ancestry.  I've found a surprisingly high percentage of the older volumes are freely available online through hathitrust.org and similar providers. With a little digging it's also often possible to find a ready formatted citation for the book.  One thing to watch out for is page numbering.  The numbering offered by online provider is often different from the original book pagination (and the latter should be used). As others have said, the work quality varies from one family history to another, so these should be used as a sole source only "in extemis".
+5 votes

Here is a posting from Genea-Musings Evidently, it does give the source of the information after you do a search. It would be nice if they gave a list of the books indexed, but it is probably similar to the books given here: Sources-Family Genealogies.

I don't think of these databases as sources, but they can lead you to other sources.

by Rick Pierpont G2G6 Pilot (120k points)
My comment about lack of source information is based on recent direct experience. This "database" contains images of published books, but Ancestry's source citation, source information, and source description do not identify the book. I observed this recently when Ancestry gave a me a search result that pointed to this database. The book was recognizable as a page from the early-20th-century "Lyon Memorial" series (books that are in the public domain and are available on several free websites), but Ancestry's source information didn't mention that, much less mention which of the several "Lyon Memorial" volumes it was. I used other search capabilities to figure out which of the books it was, and I gave no credit to Ancestry when I cited the book as a source.

PS - Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings blog post describes the index entries in Ancestry. Although many Ancestry users seem to build their entire family trees from index entries, the image of the record (in this case, the book) is just one click away from the index entry. It's the citation information connected to the book image that I found to be so appallingly deficient. (I never pay much attention to the index entry -- as I see it, that exists only to help me find the record.)
Sometimes all you need is a starting point.  A lot of these books were put together long ago by family members with an interest in genealogy at a time before the internet and easy data access.  I respect the efforts (must have taken many years to put some of these together) and realize that there are probably errors.  There are probably errors in sourced works, as well.  With today's resources, you can often take information from these old works and "find the trail."  Along the way, you will find errors, but you might find valuable missing details, as well.  An old saying -- don't throw out the baby with the bath water.  As with all research, check and double check, but try to look at all of the information.
+4 votes
by David Stewart G2G Crew (320 points)
That is only one of the books ancestry.com cites. Others include DAR records and other family history books.

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