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Dangers of Online Family Trees

Updated: Apr 26, 2018

Dangers of Online Family Trees

Anyone who is interested in genealogy has stumbled across family trees online. Genealogy websites have become mainstream in recent years, thanks to the digitization of records and the advance of technology. Many of these sites allow members to create family trees to organize their ancestral information. Members can also choose whether to keep this information private, or to make it public.

Creating a family tree on a website may seem harmless enough. There’s just one teensy, tiny problem with doing so: No one verifies the information in them. There are no genealogists behind the computer screen authenticating the information members upload to these sites.

All it takes is for one person to input incorrect information, and for others to copy it for a problem to arise. I’ve seen many family trees over the years that contain the same information, but do not contain any supporting sources, i.e. vital records, church records, census records, etc. In some of these cases, the information in the trees was incorrect, yet several people had blindly believed it and urged its propagation.

What happens when an ancestor is mistakenly identified? In the best case, you have one generation incorrect. In the worst, you have several generations incorrect, and you’ve wasted hours upon hours of your own time. Neither scenario is ideal. It is important to get our family history right. Give yours the respect it deserves.

Not all family trees are useless. Look for family trees with attached sources. Examine those sources for yourself, and determine if they verify a relationship or not. If they don’t, do not copy the information. Look for other sources that may prove the relationship. If you can’t find any, you still shouldn’t copy information from an unverified tree. Keep working on your own tree, and, in most cases, you will eventually find proof of your ancestry.


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