I have a question related to using other people’s family trees on Ancestry. This is an honest question born out of some struggles!
How do you know when and if their information is accurate? Particularly when you are researching an ancestor that is new for you and the “hints” that are provided are from someone’s family tree.
This question comes up a lot. You want to approach other people’s trees just like you would approach any record.
Think about a death certificate. It can contain all sorts of information, such as a death date and location, birth date and location, and parents’ names. How do you know if that information is correct? The death date and location are likely to be correct, though not always, as that information was generally recorded close to the event and very likely by someone who was there. But birth information and parents’ names? They could be right, they could be wrong. You have to look at who the informant was and how the information compares to other information that you have.
You should evaluate someone else’s tree the same way. First, what question are you trying to answer? Maybe you want to know who the children of a person were. Or when the person was born. Or where.
The upcoming site update, which is being rolled out incrementally to our members, offers a new way to look at your sources. (Note: You may not have seen this yet, but it is coming! Read more at Sneak Peek of The New Ancestry Website!)
The new presentation makes it a little bit easier to see what the supporting documents for a fact are.
On the tree page, choose Facts.
Then click on the fact that you are evaluating. If I want to know where the information for the birth date comes from, I can click on Birth.
I see that information came from the 1850, 1870, and 1880 censuses and Find A Grave. I can click on the record, click VIEW, examine the details, and then view the actual record. Always look at the supporting evidence!
When determining if the children are correct, look at each child individually. Start with birth dates and locations. Do they make sense? What supporting evidence is there? And even if there isn’t supporting evidence on that tree, don’t assume those names are wrong. Do some investigation on your own. Can you find census records, vitals, or probates to support that parent-child relationship?
Don’t look at an entire tree or entry as being right or wrong. First, ask yourself, what question am I trying to answer? Then look at the entry, see what evidence is available to answer that, and evaluate each piece of evidence on its own.
Go slow, examine everything, and keep looking to find more evidence that confirms or denies. But don’t avoid trees! There is some bad information out there, but there is also a whole lot of great research and plenty of documents for you to examine. A really good genealogist looks at everything.