Do Ancestry sources and references mean anything?

+9 votes
I will often encounter a source or reference from a gedcom import that reads something like "Source: # S-21433", perhaps with text: http.... Or it may say something like "Repository..."

I understand that these sources are often not worth much, so I replace them when I find better ones. But are the "Source:..." and "Repository:..." references actually worth anything? Can you use this information to actually find the original source/reference? Can they (or should they) be deleted for clarity? Should the be deleted when I find a more specific or reliable source?

I usually replace them, leaving only the http.... as a source, even though clicking it takes you to a fee-based page (which I don't subscribe to). If you are an ancestry subscriber, does the link actually take you to something useful?

I realize that Geni is not a primary source, nor is Find A Grave. But these seem to be better than Ancestor or nothing at all.
in Policy and Style by Steve Selbrede G2G2 (2.9k points)

This is a good example of & Source Quotes:

  • 1860 United States Federal Census. 30 July. Schroeppel, Oswego / Phoenix, New York. Post Office: Pheonix, NY. Film Page: 65. Line 12. Roll: M653_837; Page: 521; Image: 526; Family History Library Film: 803837. Household Members:William Halstead. Age 28. Birthplace: New York., Emily Halstead Age: 21. Phebe Wallace Age: 58. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. . , Viewed by:Vickery-352 on: 31 March 2016. (Disambiguation: Wm's neighbor on Line #7, Occupation: Master Boatman; should be attached to William on Line # 12 instead.)
P.S. I am currently using the App to link all the profiles I manage to & will eventually not need to use this format. If I can figure out how & where to post a link on the profiles there ?

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer
Steve you need to differentiate between the good stuff on Ancestry and the not so good stuff and the maybe stuff and the actual junk.

Ancestry has images of Censuses, birth and death certificates, plenty of other primary documentation. This is not junk it needs to stay.

Ancestry has indexes, which are not as good as documents, but have definite value, They should stay unless, you happen to have the primary document, that the index is referring to. For instance they have a Find a Grave index, but we can easily reference the original Find a Grave (which may be good or not)

Then there's the Data Collections, which I consider definitely iffy, and would only use if I were desperate. But they're not bad to use as clues, and definitely better than nothing, but I always try to figure out where the data came from in the first place.

Then there are Ancestry Trees. If the link is dead (which you can't tell without a subscription) then it's garbage, just taking up space. Occasionally the link might actually take you to a tree, that has sources attached, which saves a step. (I have a small tree on Ancestry. The main person has 20 attached legitimate sources, no indexes, primary docs). However, most of the trees on Ancestry are unsourced except by other trees. They are frequently inaccurate. They are without a doubt junk, but you can't tell without looking.
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
selected by Doug Lockwood
Yes, I'm extremely lucky that Ancestry UK has images of almost all the parish records of the two counties in England that I need to use. They are very valuable. If I go to the Dorset History centre now and want to see a parish record then I no longer get access to the original record because the images are on Ancestry and they provide access to it at the archives. There are often transcriptions of these records on the free to access Dorset OPC. They are useful but as with all transcriptions it is sometimes better to view the real thing. This also applies to the Ancestry Indexing (perhaps more so) I often find that I have to view the register page by page  because the transcription of names for the index is 'iffy'.

When citing the source I give the original source of those registers  and say I viewed them on Ancestry UK. This is because from the other side,  I absolutely hate links to or  which take me nowhere. ( indeed often send me to the sign in pages for when I'm in France in spite of me having Ancestry.UK membership.)

Ancestry does have a lot of junk, but as Anne and Helen have said, it has many excellent records that aren't otherwise available electronically.

Bare URLs should not be relied upon to cite anything, but as Helen notes Ancestry URLs can be particularly frustrating. When citing sources on Ancestry, it's important to try to identify and describe the document you are citing, so that someone else has a chance of finding it even if the URL doesn't work. (But it's sometimes difficult to identify files one finds in Ancestry databases.) I do also try to provide a URL (a link to the image of the record, not a search results page) for the convenience of users who have access.

+5 votes
Well, yes sometimes at least the links will still work though mostly they're a link to the Ancestry tree the GEDCOM came from.  That can be useful, since many of the profiles will have links to Censuses and all sorts of other actual documentation.  It's probably not a good idea to copy the image of the document, but you can copy the citation information Ancestry includes and transcribe documents within the Fair Usage standards.  Since I have a subscription to Ancestry, I would check these links if I were cleaning up old GEDCOMs, but I haven't done it very much since I enter my profiles by hand.  Perhaps someday this side of death I'll catch up with the major lines I've got on my computer, but except for working on a project or helping someone out, it may never be something I do often.
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (406k points)
+1 vote
Some of us are emigrĂ©s from -- hoping to settle in a more open and collaborative land.  It can take time to adjust records to "open" sources.  Though I agree, if all they did was dump the record collection here and don't maintain an active presence with gradual improvement... the references are of limited use.
by Michael Maranda G2G6 Mach 6 (66.3k points)
+3 votes
Yes, they are an excellent source if you copy/paste the original source info to the profile. Do not link them to Ancestry or use the Gedcom info from  Ancestry.
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)
edited by Doug Lockwood

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