5 Easy Steps

Don’t Blindly Trust Information You Find On The Internet

 Don’t blindly trust someone else’s research without checking it out a little first.

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Research Principle #7

Information you find on the Internet should be treated as the beginning, not the end. You don’t want to contaminate your records with someone else’s “junk” family history.

Searching for information on your family history has never been easier than it is today. Just log on to the Internet, type your name, and sometimes the computer will spew out your entire family tree — and maybe even give you several lines back to Adam, complete with photographs.

Your family history is “done,” thanks to the miracle of the Internet. Right?  Wrong!!!

The important thing to remember is that anyone can post anything they want on the Internet.  Many people have done fabulous research on your lines and found records you might never have found, and their work that they’re sharing on the Internet is worth its weight in gold.  Other folks might not have been so careful; they may have been in a hurry, made faulty assumptions, connected children to the wrong parents, etc.

So you have a lot of really good, mixed in with a lot of not so good.

That’s why you want to use some of the steps below to evaluate someone else’s work — instead of blindly accepting it and making it a part of your carefully researched work.

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Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts regarding uploading and downloading family history information from the Internet.

1. Check to see if the family history information you’ve found on the Internet has any sources.  Where did the information come from? Who submitted the information? Are there references for the “facts” given: dates, places, relationships? If there’s no documentation, be skeptical of the information. Of the items listed here, this is probably the most important.

2. Check some of the documentation.  If there are sources listed, you might want to look some of them up yourself to check them out.

3. Never import a suspect GEDCOM* file into your main family history file. Once you add a bogus file into your own data, it’s very, very difficult to back it out again. Instead, make a new file with your PAF program, then import the data into that first. Look it over and decide if it’s worth merging into your good data.  * A GEDCOM is the file format used online for sharing family history information.

4. Treat Internet information as a clue or starting point for further research. Use the collected family data others have posted online not as authority but as a clue. A GEDCOM file is never a primary source. By definition, it’s a compilation of someone else’s research or lack thereof.

5. Develop a skeptical approach towards downloaded data, just like the hard-bitten detectives in mystery stories. Make sure each person’s birth, death, and marriage information makes sense. Keep asking yourself as you read it, “How do we know this for sure? What proof is there of this?”

Hope this helps.  Remember, it’s not a race to see how many names you can collect — it’s an effort you’re investing valuable time and energy into to compile an accurate family history for your children and posterity, and ultimately to present to the Lord.  So, take your time, do a good job, and enjoy the journey.

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Your Ultimate Goal…An Accurate Family History

The problem with much of the family information that’s freely traded on the Internet is that it’s often unsubstantiated and of questionable validity. Because it’s unvetted, it’s value may be very low. Yet people treat it as if it were gospel truth when it should be treated as a clue or a starting point for further research.

Before computers, desktop publishing and the Internet, it was hard to get something into print. Genealogies of reliable authors usually got published only after an editorial review known as vetting—which means “to subject to expert appraisal or correction.”

These reliable publications still exist, including many state and county historical societies and the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, which has published its journal continuously since 1845.

It’s easy to publish good and bad research today; just upload it to a repository. No one checks it and complains if it’s deficient. And it’s so easy to download, too, much easier than searching out old books in a library.

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This information on this page is adapted from an article titled: The Use and Abuses of Online Genealogy by Gary B. Hoffman.  We thank Gary for his insights.

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Step 5.  Take Your Names To The Temple


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