Sources, addiction, and aha!

Posted December 8, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

Today’s post was written by Grant Brunner of

A few months ago, I came across this quote from Janet L. Baughman on People Stories:

“There are ladies who lunch and gentlemen who golf. Then there are others who find excitement in the world of genealogy, but beware — genealogy can be addictive.”

Anybody who has ever spent the better part of their Thursday evening looking through census records will find truth in that quote. Once you go down the rabbit hole of genealogy, you won’t be coming back out of it. You’ll end up spending a substantial portion of your free time looking for data that is hidden away in some 200 year-old document — looking for your next fix.

This need that many of us have to keep adding to our tree, I believe, relates directly to the feeling we get when we have a big breakthrough. One might call it an “Aha!” moment. Unfortunately, that can also lead to erroneous information being added in search of that feeling. Nobody wants bogus information in their tree, but our judgement is sometimes clouded as far as what should be added.

How can we fix this? Well, we could require a source for everything you put into the tree. That leads to the question “What is a valid source?” Is a family bible a valid source? What about family interviews? Census data and birth certificates? There are countless differing opinions in the genealogy community about what exactly should be considered a proper source of data. Frankly, it’s impossible to narrow it down to a hard and fast list of “Good” and “Bad” sources.

In my opinion, the best way to go about making sure we don’t go too far down the wrong path in our tree is to clearly mark any profile of questionable integrity. If we’re overly restrictive about what we add to the tree, it stops being fun and engaging. Having unverifiable profiles is inevitable when dealing with a tree as big as ours here at Geni, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wild west out there. With that in mind, here are some tips for labeling dubious profiles:

  • Utilize the display name field to let others know that this might not be the right person.
  • If the profile is popular, you might consider creating a discussion with the profile tagged in it. That way anybody who is following that profile closely will be aware.
  • The “About Me” section is a great place to put any relevant information as to how you believe they are connected to the tree.
  • If at all possible, create a document for the profile that lists what information you have found and where it came from.

Just remember that we don’t live in a perfect world. Not everything in genealogy can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. It’s something we have to live with, but let’s try to be responsible about our questionable additions.