Using Unsourced Online Genealogies as Sources

+5 votes
161 views
Lately, I have become extremely frustrated when tidying up mostly pre-1700 profiles by the profiles referring to unsourced online genealogies as their sources. For example, the one profile refers to ClanMacfarland online genealogy and Stirnet as their sources. If you go to the ClanMacfarland genealogy it uses the STIRNet genealogy as the source. Go to STIRNET and it is obvious they use an old genealogy book published in mid1800s as their source. Oh, and anybody who is familiar with the book knows it contains many genealogical errors. I understand that finding primary sources for this time period is difficult, but we need to keep an open mind that sometimes published information is wrong.  Can we do anything to weed out these sources?
asked in Policy and Style by Ray Harriot G2G1 (1k points)

6 Answers

+8 votes
I link to online genealogies (which I find them), but I put them under a "See also:" heading, rather than under == Sources ==, and I only consider them as hints of what to search for in actual sources.
answered by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (193k points)
+6 votes

When I don't have a valid source, I will cite online trees but I always add an italicized statement at the end of the citation that says:  A more reliable source for this information is required.

Please note, though, that the only profiles I work on are post-1850 or so.  The reason I have such difficulty finding sources is that these are Jewish families in Eastern Europe and frequently their events were prohibited from being officially recorded plus whatever records did exist were mostly destroyed during the Holocaust.

If I have a good source, I don't bother including online trees even in the "see also" section.

Perhaps, in the absence of valid sources, my disclaimer statement could be appended to the citations to online genealogies and family trees instead of simply deleting them.

answered by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (546k points)
+4 votes
So what can you do?  Real life is too short to demand proof of everything all the time.  If it's not life or death, you take what you've heard or read for what it's worth, at the risk of being misinformed.

Research starts with the literature survey.  You collect everything that's already been said and done that looks relevant.  You figure out where it came from and what its limitations and weaknesses are.  Questionable work may need to be redone, but you aren't going to redo everything from scratch.

You get up to speed with the literature before you go looking for new primary data, otherwise you're very likely to misinterpret what you find.

On WikiTree, ideally, this would be a collaborative process.  Somebody starts a profile, and everybody uses it as a chalkboard to collect links to everything that's out there.

But the stupid new "reliable source" rule says you can't do that.  Now, unless the reliable research has already been done for you, and you only have to copy it from Great Migration, you have to do your literature survey offsite and get into the original research in hard-to-access primary sources before you can even create the profile.  Where's the collaboration?
answered by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (435k points)
edited by RJ Horace
RJ,

The point of genealogy shouldn't be to create a fantasy tree it should be to create an accurate tree. I'm sorry, but I see nothing stupid about requiring a reliable source for entries into WikiTree or any other site for that matter.
But the rule can't be applied factoid by factoid.  It requires entire books and websites to be deemed reliable and added to a list.

But all the old books contain chunks of junk alongside the sound material.  So they can't be called reliable, which now means they can't be can't be used at all.

Stirnet is an excellent site.  It makes heavy use of Visitation books and Burke's, but it collates all the versions.  By doing that, it fixes many errors found in individual books, and identifies points that remain problematic.  This is progress.  Still, you couldn't call it reliable.  But there isn't any reliable published work on most of those families.  So you start from where you are.
+1 vote
Stirnet cites its sources and people who work on medieval genealogies are familiar with these sources and know how to rank them, and when to disregard them.

Perhaps you missed this page also:

https://www.stirnet.com/sources-and-acknowledgements/

At some point these are discussions for academics.
answered by Dina Grozev G2G6 Mach 2 (27.9k points)
0 votes
You should never weed out a source as the more sources you have to prove  a relationship, the closer you come to the required standard of proof. In the example you have portrayed it appears to  be a weak secondary source and should be noted as that.
answered by George Churchill G2G6 Mach 6 (61.4k points)
0 votes

It sounds like you are weeding them out. Thanks. Collaboratively crowdsourcing with primary and more reliable secondary sources is the very point of WikiTree. And with more sources coming online, it's getting easier. 

This isn't a new issue. "Old genealogy books" were the unsourced, frequently unreliable genealogies of their day. That being said, not all such genealogies are worthless. In the 1990s, a group of my distant cousins worked collaboratively on a genealogy of several related families. Sadly, they included not a single source. Happily, their research is largely correct and is a very valuable map. Same with online genealogies. Each needs to be evaluated on its own terms. If it's reliable, I would leave as a "see also", if only so someone could see who else is researching the same family.

answered by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 5 (50.9k points)

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