Mar 8, 2017

Should You Use Family Trees as Sources?

In my last post about making your family tree public or private I talked about the downfalls of people using trees as sources often resulting in incorrect information passed from tree to tree (Here you can read it).  So should you ever use an public tree for sources for your own research?
For my research I use the trees of other researchers as a guide.  When I start to research an ancestor I first look for as many records as I can to confirm birth, death, burial, marriage, etc.  If I am having trouble finding information I will look at that ancestor in other family trees to see if they have any of the facts I am missing.  Then I will use the family tree information to further search for a confirming record.  For example I may have an ancestor who lived all their lives in Michigan but cannot find a death record.  If another researcher has this person as dying in Wisconsin I will use that information to search death records in Wisconsin.  I estimate that about 70% of the time I can find a source record to confirm the other researchers data.  If I cannot confirm the fact I do not add it to my public tree but will make a note in my own software program.

From years of following this guideline I have developed a few tips when looking at public trees to help determine the accuracy of data.  While these tips do not confirm the information in a tree is correct I have found them helpful in guiding my own research.

1. Does the Public Tree Have Sources?

A tree with sources (both from and others) attached is a good indication that the researcher checks their facts and the information in the tree is proven by records.  Beware of trees with no sources attached or trees where the only sources are other family trees.  This indicates they just copy information from other trees without verifying facts.

2.  How Closely Related is the Researcher (usually the home person) to the ancestor in Question?

If the researcher is a direct descendant they may have personal information about their ancestor not available in published records.  In my example above for instance, the person who ended up buried in Wisconsin may have moved there late in life but there may not be any records to show the move.  A family member might have knowledge of this fact however.  To see how the researcher is related click on tree view in their public tree to see if they are a direct descendant.  If they are not a direct descendant you will need to search around in the tree to try to figure out how they are related.

3.  Are There Any Other Sources Listed That Did Not Come From

Sources from Family Search or other sites are good indications the facts in the tree have been researched, plus you can follow up on these to find the original record yourself.  Non published sources such as family bibles can also offer information you cannot find elsewhere.

4. Are There Posted Pictures of Source Documents?

You can look in the "gallery" for a person to see if any pictures of source documents have been posted.  Death certificates, wills, funeral cards, etc. that are not available elsewhere on line all offer documentation of facts.

5.  Tips for Determining Accuracy of Photographs of Ancestors.

 I always get excited when I find a photograph of an ancestor in a public tree because I love seeing what the people looked like that I am researching.   However you have to be cautious--I have found my own photographs attached to the wrong person in other trees.  Plus I found one picture of an ancestor that had the date written on the photo--it was 10 years after she died--believe it was a picture of the second wife, not my ancestor.  Here are some tips to determine the accuracy of photographs.
  • If the researcher is a direct descendant it is more likely they would have a picture that has been passed down in the family.
  • Writing on the actual photograph such as names, dates, locations can give clues to accuracy.
  • If the researcher was the original poster of the photograph it is most likely in their possession and they have more information about the picture.  When you open a picture from the gallery of a tree on the right hand side you can find who originally posted the photo along with any other details the researcher might has listed.  

Feb 16, 2017

Should You Make Your Ancestry Family Tree Public or Private?

If you are a member of you have the choice of making your family tree public or private.  There is great debate among researchers on this question.  It is a double edged sword in my opinion, with good reasons for each choice.  I personally have my trees public and thought I would share my reasons for this decision.

If your tree is public anyone can see it (living people cannot be viewed by others on a public tree) and anyone can copy your information into their own tree.  If private your tree will come up in searches but cannot be viewed.

One reason I have seen stated for keeping a tree private many times in forums and articles is researchers do not want people to "steal" their research.  They feel they have worked long and hard to gather the facts in their tree and others should not "get it for free".  I would think this is especially true if they have gathered many sources from outside not readily available.  I understand this feeling especially if you have traveled far distances and spent money on ordering records.  I personally enjoy sharing rare finds.  Actually I am rather proud when I find an obscure record or source.  But not everyone enjoys sharing so it is a personal choice.

The biggest drawback in my opinion with public trees is people taking your information and using it incorrectly.  I have seen this happen many times and it has happened to me.  They attach records to the wrong ancestor.  If your ancestor has a common name there could be hundreds if not more people out there with the same name.  This causes a snowball effect of incorrect information getting added to more and more trees because people assume it is correct because they see it in so many places.  While this is a concern of mine I cannot control what others do and I feel for my purposes the benefits for having my tree public outweigh the downsides of people using information incorrectly. 

If you attach "sensitive" information to your ancestors that you do not want others to see then it is smart to keep your tree private. Many do not want others to see out of wedlock births, suicides, ancestors in jail, etc.  I do have a few cases in my tree where this applies to more recent ancestors meaning there are people still alive who are connected to the sensitive information.  In these cases I do not attached the sensitive facts to these people on Ancestry.  I keep all that information in my genealogy software program.  You can also add Notes to people in your tree.  These Notes cannot be seen by others even if your tree is public unless  you give someone access to your tree as Editor.

Many researchers will create "test" trees for data that is not proven.  This can be helpful in finding more information on the ancestors in question because you never know what will come up in the Ancestry hints.  If you have a tree that is purely a test and likely contains errors keeping it private will prevent people from using it incorrectly.  I only have two trees, one for my own ancestors and one for my husband's.  I do have a few cases where I am almost certain a family is connected to mine but not sure how.  I will add these people to my tree but only with proven sourced facts about them--I do not tie them in to the rest of my ancestors.  For example if I believe "John Smith" is my great grandfather's brother I will add him to my tree with his spouse and children but would not link him to my great grandfather.

Many who add photographs to their tree keep it private so no one can take and use their pictures.  It is a fact of the internet that if you post a picture people can and in many cases will--copy and use it.  I love finding pictures of my ancestors and have been able to identify some of my own photos of ancestors from pictures I have found on Ancestry.  I do post many of my pictures and enjoy sharing with others.  The main problem with pictures and again this has happened to me is someone will attach them to the wrong person.  This does bother me and I usually send a nice message to the person stating why I believe they have my photo attached to the wrong person but that is no guarantee they will correct it.

So with all these drawbacks of a a public tree why do I make mine public?  For myself the benefits outweigh the negatives.  My main reason is being able to connect with others researching my ancestors.  I have found numerous "cousins" through my trees.  A few of those have become  friends who I have been able to meet in person.  I have been able to learn so much more about a few of my ancestors from making these connections.  I love to find details about ancestors that just are not available in traditional sources.  Family stories, pictures, details that are not in records but have been passed down through generations -- these are things that sometimes can only be found by sharing with others.

While I am careful to verify any records and information before I add them to my trees I do sometimes make mistakes.  I have been fortunate to have others find these errors and send me a message so I can correct them.  This would not have happened if my trees were private.

In summary each person is responsible for the accuracy of the information in their trees. There are so many types of researchers on  It ranges from those serious about their information providing sources for all their facts to basically name collectors who will attach any record they find or that pops up in hints without verifying or stopping to think if the information makes sense.  I will continue to make mine public because I have gained so much through my connections with others that would not have happened without my information being public.

Feb 7, 2017

Tombstone Tuesday: Found my Great, Great Aunt

I had been able to find and trace all my Great Grandfather's (Eugene Ellsworth Lammay) siblings with the exception of one--Ida Chalfant Anderson Roberts (she was a half sister).  From the information in the obituaries of my 2nd great grandparents I was fairly certain she had remained in the Pittsburgh area and I knew her married name was Anderson.  But I had no luck finding any further information on her.

Then when the Pennsylvania Death Certificates became available on I found her by searching on parents.  She had married a second time to a William J Roberts and was buried at Mount Royal Cemetery.  I suspected she may have been buried here since three other siblings are at this cemetery but I did not know her last married name until the death certificates became available.

A few weeks ago we made a trip to this cemetery (my parents and grandparents are here also).  It was a Sunday so the office was closed and I had no idea where in the cemetery she was buried.  We walked around the areas where the other siblings were buried and I found her just down from her sister Bertha Lammay Dankmeyer.  It is ironic--all the times I have visited Bertha's grave never knowing Ida was just a few feet away.  Glad to have found you Aunt Ida!

Oct 27, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday: Where they Were Born

I came across this tombstone awhile ago in St. Mary's Cemetery in Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh.  It was my first trip to this cemetery to look for my husband"s family.  This marker struck me because it lists the person's place of birth.  I have seen this a few times before but not too often.  How wonderful to fine your ancestor's country PLUS county of birth on a tombstone. I wish all my ancestors would have listed their place birth on their tombstones.  Well actually I would settle for my ancestors having tombstones since so many do not.  The inscription says:

In Memory of
Catherine Ward
Native of Co, Monahan Ireland
Died Sept, 13, 1877
Aged 72 years
May Her Soul Rest

Sep 8, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday A Music Composer

At my last visit to Allegheny Cemetery this past July I came across this tombstone which caught my attention because I felt it was unique.  It has a few lines of music notes written on the stone.  It is a large stone and is located in the "Millionaires Alley" section.  I did a little searching about Adolph M Foerster and found he was a music professor and also a composer.  I am assuming the music on his marker is something he composed himself.  Never learned to read music myself but would love to hear the tune on this tombstone.

Here is a close of the music notes

If you would like to see a picture of Adolph there is one on Find A Grave.

Oct 7, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday - Unique Bust

My daughter spied this tombstone in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.  It is in a far off corner just up from the community garden.  The name on the marker is Yost and I am assuming this is a likeness of at least one person buried in this plot.

I thought it was rather unique but my daughter had a different impression.  It caught her eye because it reminded her of the Disney movie "Haunted Mansion".  If you have seen the movie (or the Disney park ride) you are familiar with the singing haunted busts.  Haunted Mansion is my daughter's all time favorite movie which is why this tombstone caught her attention I'm sure.

Aug 19, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: Sad Little Tombstone

I found this small angel tombstone in Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh on our last trip there.  Not even sure how I spied it because it is almost completely hidden under a big tree.  The writing is just about completely worn off so I don't know the name.  It is a small angel with maybe a flower ? motif.  My guess is it is a marker for a child who died a long time ago.  There are no other markers near it so possibly no other family is buried here.  It just struck me as so sad.  So to whoever is buried here, rest in peace, you are not forgotten.