Error fatigue

You have undoubtedly seen online exchanges that go something like:

“That genealogical claim is wrong/unproved.”

Reply: “Prove that it is wrong/unproved!”

I first experienced this back in the early days of the Internet when I posted a caution that the royal ancestry attributed to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren was not proved. I was immediately challenged to prove my claim.

Well, the claim was never based on evidence in the first place, and the amount of time and energy one would have to put into disproving phantom claims is more than I had, or have, time for. My challenger had already copied the information from a book, wholly believed every word of it, and was not about to be told otherwise.

We can all sympathize, up to a point, with the challenger. If everything one finds while researching one’s genealogy is subject to a whole bunch of “ifs, buts, and maybes,” why not just pick the version you like best and stick with that? Why bother to sort out the facts?

Only those researchers who are intrigued and interested by the process of really identifying and proving a lineage will endure...

In today’s world of promised “push button” genealogy, newcomers most likely do not hang around for long. They get in quick, get a pedigree, and get out when things start to get confusing. Only those researchers who are intrigued and interested by the process of really identifying and proving a lineage will endure, but we wage constant battle with the repeated swirl of unproved, misconstrued, or just wrong published information. How do you satisfactorily explain to newbies that they cannot rely on all they see? It is somewhat like handing a shovel to people who think there already is a tunnel.

I have been around long enough to understand that no matter how many articles I write trying to correct errors in print, only a small handful of people will ever read them or even know they exist, or, for that matter, care, but I still worry about these “lost genealogical souls,” who, if nothing else, will miss that wonderful feeling of achievement when they unravel the truth about their families.

We all yearn for the time when, magically, everything in print and online will be accurate and a newcomer’s first exposure to genealogy will be correct from the start. We should all live so long. Until then do we just let these souls be content with their copied errors? Is there even any point in trying to protect them from themselves? What possibly could be done to help those who do not know they need help?

What do you think?

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams