Stealing Ancestors

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One thing the Internet has done is made genealogy easy.  I admit that I use it and have found some information that I might never have found, if not for some of the family history sites.  However, the ancestry sites are not the end all. 

I started doing genealogy in 1979, well before the Internet or even personal computers for that matter. It was a long treacherous process.  When I decided to do it back then, I went to the library and took out “how to” books.  I took notes from those books, and after several weeks of studying, I started my genealogy journey.  The only way to get a family tree form or family group sheets was to send for them from Utah, and they cost 10 cents a page.  The books advised writing in pencil until you were sure of the facts, so you didn’t have to keep redoing your forms.  The books emphasized starting with yourself and working backwards, which seemed pretty easy.  I knew my statistics, and that of my parents, and grandparents.  I then set off to interview my family members.  I gathered name, dates, and places and when my forms arrived entered that information into my forms.  I used a typewriter to type up my notes.  I kept a research log, and a correspondence log.  I wrote to county court houses asking for them to search for ancestors, birth, marriage, or death records.  I had to do it slowly because they charged $5.00 to search whether they found one or not.  Most of the time, they said they could not find them.  Years later, I made a personal visit and they did have them.  My next step was to visit cemeteries where I was told our ancestors were buried.  I had good luck and was able to find most of them.  I recorded the information off the tombstones (if they had one) or got the information from the cemetery office.   I visited the county courthouses. My mother and I made a trip to Amana, Iowa where her great grandparents first settled after coming here.  I didn’t get very far in those days because I was limited by money, mail, and travel. 

In 1990 I went to work in a library that had a genealogy section.  Patrons would come in and we would have to unlock the room with the genealogy collection.  Patrons would ask questions, and even though I had a little knowledge, I could not answer their questions.  The reference librarians seemed to hate when patrons would ask genealogy questions because they were unprepared to answer them.  As one librarian told me, “They don’t teach genealogy in library school.”  A lot of the patrons were very knowledgeable about genealogy, and we all know how genealogist love to talk about it.  I would listen to the ones who seemed very knowledgeable.  I had actually stopped doing it because I was not getting very far.  My mother and I were doing it together and she had passed away.  But now working at this library, I got interested again.  I started working on my own family tree again.  Now I knew how to get microfilm from the state library for census records, ship passenger lists, and old newspapers.  After my work shift, I would spend hours going through microfilm I had Interlibrary loaned from the state archives.  Now I was getting someplace and learning things about my ancestors, no one in the family had told me.   I made copies of everything I found and did citations of every document.  I still kept those pesky research notes and calendar.  I started making trips to genealogy libraries such as the one in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  I went to the libraries in the towns where my ancestors lived.  It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.  I joined the local genealogical society and again the people who belonged were very knowledgeable and could help me out.  They gave classes which I took.  I was beginning to answer patron’s questions on genealogy.  The reference librarians started sending anyone with a genealogy question to me, but I still felt inadequate.  In the early 90’s I went back to school to get a degree in library science, and by the mid 90’s I decided to take a course offered by the National Genealogical Society in Basic American Genealogy.  This was a correspondence course (not able to do on Internet yet).  It should take between 2 to 4 years to complete.  Well, it took me the 4 years because of working, raising a family, etc.  I also had to travel to get documents for this course.  I finished and have a certificate of in Basic American Genealogy from the National Genealogical Society.  I will tell you it was not easy. There is this pesky little thing called The genealogical proof standard. The National Genealogical Society followed this standard and expected it from students. There is a whole manual written on this subject.  I have tried my best in doing my own family tree to follow these standards, have written research reports for each and every one of my ancestors.  Now all this may not be necessary when doing your own.  But I wanted to be as professional about it as possible.  I also wanted the practice in case I ever decided to do it for others. 

I am telling you my back ground so you will know why it bothers me when I find one of my ancestor attached to some family tree, he does not belong on.

This has bothered me for a long time.  I have put a lot of work over many years to have an accurate family tree.  I don’t always keep my online family tree up to date, but I do my personal one on my computer and paper.  One online family history site gives leaves which are meant to be hints.  Their computers take what you have entered into your family tree and match with records with those same names, dates, etc.  Some of the records belong to your ancestor and some DO NOT.  Some matches are from another member’s family tree.  Someone new to genealogy may think that because my ancestor has the same name and approximate birthdate as their ancestor it is their ancestor.  So, without much thought, they attach to their family tree.  I have found my grandfather attached to another person’s family tree, where he is married to someone who is not my grandmother.  They have children together and this person attached my mother to this family.  I guess my mother had brothers and sisters she didn’t know about.  Then they went even further and attached my brother (who is deceased) as their grandson.  Months ago, I sent this person a message telling them they had attached the wrong person and I sent proof along with it.  They have yet to respond or remove it.  I have also found this with aunts and uncles of mine and my husbands. It seems to be quite common for people to do this and not think through if this is really their ancestor.  Then I hear how easy genealogy is and anyone can do it now.

Recently, I got a message from someone telling me that the dates, name, and wife’s name of my one 2nd great grandfather is wrong in my family tree.  Of course, he gave me the right name, dates, and names of his three wives.  I sat here for a couple of minutes trying to digest this information.  I realized what this man had done.  He thought my 2nd great grandfather was his ancestor and he had different dates and names.  Their names were close and date of birth and death were with in a year of each other.  I messaged him back and told him that my name, dates, and name of wife were correct.  I had all the documentation. At least he accepted that he had the wrong person and it ended there.  But when I did a name search on my 2nd great-grandfather, I came up with 33,785 hits, and if I put in his birth and death year, I got 13,000 hits.  As you can see there are many people in the world with the same name and close birth and death years.  No one should assume because they get leaf this is their ancestor.  You must check it out first.  Be careful about telling someone they are wrong.  I have done extensive research on this man.  I have his birth, marriage, death records, visited the cemetery where he is buried, have the ships passenger record, his naturalization record, and have followed him from place to place in the United States, followed him in all census records from 1880 to 1920 as well as city directories.  I traced all his children down to today’s descendants.  I think the commercials for Ancestry are to blame for some of this.  In the commercial the person finds a leaf and that leaf led to finding her whole family back generations, just like that.  All she did was put her ancestors name in and there was her whole family tree.  It makes it look easy and like there is no work involved. People expect fast results without any work. 

This has become a pet peeve of mine.  When I have put in the work to trace my family lines back several hundred years and someone goes on Ancestry and steals my ancestor to put in their family tree it is just so annoying.  A distant ancestor is one thing, but when it is your mother and brother it becomes personal.

I am glad I learned the old-fashion way because I know my family tree is accurate.  I can back it up anytime, can they?

3 thoughts on “Stealing Ancestors

  1. I can relate to the irritation. I’ve experienced similar things. I try to ignore it, but when someone decided to replace my aunt with someone of similar name and then proceed to add my grand parent as this stranger’s parents…grr. Especially since my aunt is still living! As are my parents. Sheesh. You are right that Ancestry has made it all look easy and the hints can be so wrong. No one bothers to evaluate and the consequences are obvious: dead people and one-year-olds having babies, etc. Right. And truthfully, many records have errors that cause even more confusion. That’s why the work you do matters. Try not to let the slackers get you down.

  2. I have gotten “relatives” hints from ancestry. One I know was a second cousin. The second was also a relative but the third I have not been able to verify…yet.
    You have done an unbelievable research for your family. Well done.

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