I got an Ancestry.com Message today from a woman related to a man in my family tree. In her research she had come to a conclusion regarding the identity of his wife that was different from mine.
Of course, my first reaction was an internal roll of the eyes and the arrogant thought that I would educate her about how to do real genealogy research. I immediately navigated to the man in question in my family tree. As I began to review my research notes so I could craft a response to her (and I make extensive notes in Family Tree Maker on every person I research), I had the fleeting thought that maybe I shouldn't have made my family tree public because clearly this woman didn't know what she was doing and she was probably going to attach someone from my tree to someone in her tree when it was obvious that they were not the same person.
As I read my notes my ego quickly deflated to an appropriate level.
Several years ago I was searching for the husband and children of Thelda M Jones. I knew she was enumerated in the 1910 census with her parents as a ten year old child. She was not enumerated with them, her older brother or any other known family members in the 1920 census. My assumption was that she married sometime between 1916 and 1920.
I knew from her father's obituary that my Thelda married a man named Cecil Christian sometime before 1936. I wasn't able to locate a marriage record for Cecil and Thelda but I was able to locate Cecil in the 1920 census with his first wife. So, where was Thelda in 1920? Did she have a first husband'
I searched in vain for a marriage record. I searched the 1920 census for all women named Thelda, born about 1900 in Utah. Only two came up. I was able to exclude one of them by tracing her to her death and finding an obituary that listed her parents' names. That left one possibility.
So, I added this man and these children to my family tree with a note that I needed to find a marriage record, an obituary, or further documentation to support that this Thelda and my Thelda were one and the same.
Then, as often happens, my research on that branch of the family got side-tracked. For four years.
I made my family tree public (warts and all) a few months ago so that I could more readily connect with DNA matches. But, in that time I have received messages from many more people than just those biological cousins. Including this one. As I re-read the message from this woman there were a few things that stood out to me.
She explained what she believed to be the truth about this man and his family. She referenced the exact records she used to come to this conclusion. She very specifically pointed out the discrepancies between our two trees. She then said this, "I can't see the actual documentation that you have in your tree' I am just wondering if I could find out a little more about the records that support your tree' Thanks for any direction you can give here, I would appreciate it." She concluded with directions for how to find her public tree so I could view it for myself.
Between the records that she had attached to her tree and the previous research I had done on this family, I was able to conclude for myself that the Thelda in her tree and the Thelda in my tree were two different women. I corrected my tree and sent this woman a thank you note for bringing this to my attention.
There are several things I re-learned today because of this experience. Here are just a few lessons I hope you'll consider:
When was the last time you read and responded to your Ancestry.com messages'
Anything else you learned'
- Reach out to others who may or may not have accurate information in their online trees. Be nice!
- Not everyone approaches genealogy research the same way you do but we can all do it better if we work together.
- Keep good notes. It will help you keep your sanity and keep you from having to redo research.