My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

FamilySearch says this woman has no father!
(George W. Seabolt and wife Nancy Amanda Spears ca 1885;
Nancy was the daughter of Lazarus Spears and his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Amis)

My friends would describe me as a mild-mannered, easy-going kind of person -- laid back, even -- who doesn't get upset easily.  For my part, I consider myself to be flexible and willing to see both sides of the coin….

….  which is why I was surprised to find myself shaking with fury after receiving one of those emails FamilySearch sends you about the ancestors you are "watching" on their website.

You might recall that last spring I wrote about my excitement with FamilySearch's new collaborative family tree of mankind: "They're Not My Ancestors, They're Ours!" I had been disillusioned with's lack of control over how users appropriated other users' data, and thought that the only way to circumvent this problem was to work collaboratively on one tree.

I still believe that working together is the best way for researchers to create an accurate depiction of our ancestors' families and relationships.  The only thing is, I forgot that people use a site like FamilySearch for many different reasons, and not all of them reflect the goals of accurate scholarship.

Now comes my tale of woe:  last April, I wrote about how I was happily using indexes created on Fold3 to cross-check Revolutionary War pensions for information about people other than the ones who were named on the record itself.  One of the records -- a widow's pension for a man named Lazarus Jones -- had a goldmine of information for my ancestor, Lazarus Spears of Hawkins County, Tennessee.  The pension had been applied for fraudulently in one state by a son of the deceased, while the mother applied for it directly in another state.  Clearly they didn't talk much!  My ancestor and many others were called on to give evidence in the case, which resulted in a lot of family data that I had never seen before (this is a family that has been fairly well researched, albeit without published sources).

So, filled with ideas of "one family tree of mankind," I painstakingly entered all my new sources on the FamilySearch website.  My data extended beyond my ancestor Lazarus, to his father Samuel, Samuel's siblings, and their home back in North Carolina.  Now here's where my optimism about this idea of crowd-sourcing ancestors started to fade.  When I started to look at Samuel's family tree, I faced a tangle of children born fifty years before the parents and families with 20 children, many with similar names but vastly different births…. you get the picture. It was too ugly and too complicated to unravel, and frustrating because the kernels of truth were in there!  So I decided to ignore the crazy stuff and focus my efforts solely on Lazarus and his family.  

Fast forward to a few months later.  I get an email from FamilySearch saying that changes have been made to Lazarus Spears….. Someone had created a new person named "Lazarus Spiers," connected him to the first marriage and deleted the link of my Lazarus to this family, somehow deleting all my carefully sourced data in the process.  I was furious, and wrote to FamilySearch asking how this could happen.  In return, I received an anodyne response to the effect that well, you can always undo any changes that are made, and we do encourage our users to cite their sources….  NO!  It was too much work in the first place to redo it just because some idiot thinks that her ancestor never had a second family.

And now, here I am worked up all over again because I just got another email from FamilySearch.  This time, some guy replaced the link to my research, but severed the tie of anyone named Lazarus Spears (or even Spiers) to his second family….which happens to be mine.  If this guy could accept my data about Lazarus from the Jones pension file, why couldn't he also accept my sources for Lazarus' second marriage? Why delete it????

Yes, the beauty of a crowd-sourced tree is also its greatest fault -- that is, we all have a hand in it.  However I firmly believe that FamilySearch should do a much better job at policing changes made to their family tree site.  For instance, changes should be much more difficult to make if sources are attached.  Maybe they should also require notification of the person who entered the data in the first place, so a discussion could take place before the changes go into effect.  

Or maybe, FamilySearch should just call it what it is…. the IGI for the 21st century.  No more, no less.  

And as for me -- I hate to say this, but I'm cleaning out my Reunion files and, against the grain, I'm keeping my research on my own computer for now….. once bitten twice shy...

Friday, November 15, 2013

The more things change, the more they stay the same

It used to be -- back in the day -- when you couldn't find the subject of your search in an index, you would have to search the old-fashioned way, page by page, through the original records.  Sometimes that meant a trip to the county courthouse or the local archives, but more often than not, you spent hours hunched over microfilms, searching line by line for "your" person.  

The digital age hasn't really changed a thing.  With this push to index the massive amounts of records that are now available online has come a new twist on the old problem.  Indexing is being farmed out to non-native English speakers who can do the work cheaply and quickly -- but with a commensurate rise in the error rate.  

I am the Registrar of my local DAR chapter, and am confronting a problem that I don't think has existed on this scale before:  original documents that clearly contain data about an individual, but with indexing errors significant enough to prevent anyone else from finding those documents using a search engine.  I just submitted an application for my mother to join the DAR and I swear, while every single document I used came from the internet, not one could be found using a search engine!  Good thing I know how to cite my sources -- If I just used "" or "" no one would be able to replicate my work.  

Nancy A. Spears indexed as "Nancy A. Spencer"

Every member of this household was incorrectly assigned the surname "Routh" except for the head, who was correctly indexed with the surname "Seabolt."  Come on, this is common sense!

Thomas Covert indexed as "James"
So we are back to the old days.  If you can't find your guy in the database, chances are he really might be there, just hidden by a poor indexing job.  Now don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled to have so much data available at our fingertips.   I'm just saying we need to be as vigilant as ever about checking the original sources.