What do you do with genealogical information you find on the Internet? Do you quickly download and add the information to your family file? If you've ever been tempted, read on....
The Internet is booming with user-contributed lineage-linked databases. These databases are often the first place researchers look, and for good reason. Before performing original research, we should find out if someone else has already published information on the family. But what should we do with the information we find?
The easiest thing to do is to simply add the newly-found information to our family file, either by downloading a GEDCOM file, copying/pasting, or manually retyping the information. We have all faced this dangerous temptation. This week as I searched for and found new information on Oliver STROUD and his wife Mary BROWN, I was faced with the decision - accept what was published, or research and verify the information.
I was looking for Oliver and Mary's marriage information. I found information in nine separate databases.
Six different researchers published their marriage information as November 21, 1870 in Mills County, Iowa.
Two different researchers published April 25, 1871 in Butler County, Nebraska.
One researcher published April 28, 1871 in Butler County, Nebraska.
How should you determine which is correct? Is the 1870 Iowa marriage "most correct" because it was published the most? No. This most often indicates that one person originally published it, and the others copied and republished.
Quality research requires more investigation - not relying on published, undocumented findings as fact.
Just yesterday I obtained a copy of the original marriage record and was astonished at what I found. First, I learned that a marriage license was issued in Mills County, Iowa on November 21, 1870. Although six different researchers published this date/place as the date/place of the actual marriage, they were 5 months and 7 days early and about 120 miles off. The marriage record showed that they were married on April 28, 1871 in Butler County, Nebraska.
The record also gave the birth place, age, current residence, and the names of each set of parents. Imagine what I would be missing if I relied on someone else's published information. My research rule is to obtain original documents whenever possible, and always locate as many other records as I can to corroborate my findings. A careful evaluation of my findings is now possible.
User-contributed databases are wonderful tools as they can help us get in touch with other family researchers who may have other pieces to our ancestral puzzle. However, maintaining a "sense of skepticism" in any genealogical research is crucial to to our genealogical success.