I saw a couple of rants online again this week about online family trees. First of all, let me say that I don't disagree with the comments that many online family trees are pure mythology, I saw one Facebook post referring to trees as "genimythology." If you check the owner of these trees, you'll probably note that the last log in was a long time ago. These individuals likely saw Who Do You Think You Are?, logged onto Ancestry, accepted all of the hints without any checking and lost interest. You end up with children born before their parents, or children born when the mother was three years old…when you see this just back away.
The thing is, you don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I use online trees for two main reasons. The first is what I refer to as trolling for cousins. Genealogy is all about making connections and frequently family lore has passed down through another branch of the family. And we all know that the cousins got the good things! They may even have gotten the family Bible. How else are they going to find you?
The second reason for having my tree online is preservation and backup. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, my children will likely cremate my file cabinets with me. I don't want all of my work to be lost so having it online assures me that others will benefit from the work I've done.
This past weekend I got an email from an individual that, although not related, had seen a post and wanted to let me know that he was born in the townland of Ballymaginaghy in County Down in Ireland. That is where my husband's grandmother, Bridget King was born, one of 11 children. Now I haven't done a lot of work on my own family in many years, but an email like this always gets me excited so I've spent much of the past two days researching the families in this area. Since I last worked on this family, a great deal of additional information has become available online. Also, I leave for Ireland two weeks from today, and will be spending my first three days in Belfast, so it makes sense for me to determine what additional records, not available online, I can research while I'm there. Perhaps I'll also get a chance to meet this individual.
Now I like the ability to add research records at Ancestry and after evaluating them and determining I have the correct record for an individual (that's the key) adding them to my online tree. But, Ancestry doesn't have all of the records I need and it's not the only place I research. I have civil registration records from Ireland, images from the Revision books that document land occupancy (records only available at the Valuation Office in Dublin for the Republic), images of transcriptions from the Irish Family History Foundation as well as bits and pieces of other records and databases. I save a digital image of the document, or scan the document and upload it to my Ancestry Tree using the "Add Media" button. So connected to the fact is the source document, and if you click on the image, you'll find the complete source citation. And oh, here's another benefit, I've substantially reduced the amount of paper I have to go through to find a particular record.
Today as I was working through the King and O'Loughlin families, I was able to recycle copies of handwritten Irish census records (they're now online at the National Archives of Ireland), old Family Group Sheets, Griffith's Valuations (AskAboutIreland.ie) and in this case, the Revision books, as PRONI has imaged all of the books for Northern Ireland.
So a word of warning, always be cautious when viewing family trees online…evaluate the evidence to see if it fits with what you already know. If no source is given, contact the tree owner to see if they can provide a source…if not, use the information as a clue (mark it as such in your description field) and search for the original record.
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