The internet enables incredible research and collaboration with others on your family’s history. It’s also fraught with potential traps and misdirection. A research mistake by you or others is multiplied. In the past, a person took a blank family tree chart or family group sheet and filled in the blanks on paper as they researched their family. It was a simple way to keep track of the “facts” they uncovered in their research. If they were wrong, if they made a mistake in their research, very few people knew or were affected. That’s not true today.
Family history is not a competition. We may use games to teach our family history but the research we do is not a game. When we fail in our due diligence and rush to fill in as many blanks as possible on an online family tree, we confuse and potentially misdirect others. We may leave behind lies rather than facts for our families to follow.
This is NOT a call to abandon or stop posting online family trees. I would never do that. The collaborative aspect is much too valuable. I’m appealing for accuracy in our research before we post and when we’re not sure about our conclusion to be very clear about our uncertainty. And there lies the problem with family trees. They are made up of names, dates and lines connecting those names and dates. They create blanks for us to fill in and discourage uncertainty. Family trees are not theses or dissertations. They’re a simplified expression of that kind of research and thought.
It’s OK to leave blanks on family trees when we’re not reasonably certain what should go in those blanks. It’s OK for others to question what we have put in our blanks. We should welcome this. It’s OK to change the information in our blanks. It’s OK to use “abt” or “ca” or “unknown”. Doing so may be better for you and others.
Here’s the bottom line. You have to decide. As the genealogist/family historian are you going to focus on finding the facts or filling in the blanks as fast as you can? Will it be a competition or competent research? If it’s competent research, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with confidence.
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