Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Digging into sources in the FamilySearch Family Tree - Part Four: What is not a source?

In my last post, I started the discussion of what is a source. In this present post, I am going to explore the subject of what is not a source. Here is my first example.

The real issue here is not the validity of the sources. Of course, the Bible is a "source" for certain information. But is it a source for the information contained in the entry supported by the above list? Here is the family that this list of sources is supposed to support.

One question that comes to my mind is whether or not Adam spoke Hebrew? The idea here is not to discuss the validity of the conclusions or the beliefs concerning the named individual but to determine whether or not the sources cited address the validity of the information contained in the entry. Let's look at the first child listed.

This entry contains an exact name and a date and place of birth. Again, the question is, do the sources address the validity of the information shown as a conclusion for the individual entries? Here are the three sources listed for this particular entry:

The first item listed here is the compiled genealogy Strictly speaking, this is likely one of the places where this information was obtained but it does not contribute any validation to the information. Some opinions about sources encourage an entry even if the cited "source" does nothing more than indicate that the entry is unreliable. In the Family Tree, the idea of having sources involves providing information that validates and substantiates the entries concerning the individuals entered.

The second entry is not a source at all because it does not identify either where the information was obtained or provide any validation or substantiation. Here is all that is recorded.

A quick look in for "Biblical encyclopedia" discloses that there are over 10,000 such entries.

The last entry is even more cryptic. Going back to the website, I find that a search for  "Skaggs Documentation" produces results from topics on the Soviet nuclear strategy to rain in Minnesota with a total of about 223 responses. In short, these entries lead me to believe that the person who entered them had no particular support for the entry and that I can safely conclude that absent some extensive research, I am probably safe in concluding that the information is unreliable.

Another excuse for sloppy source entries that is often expressed is that they may lead the researcher to some valid conclusions, i.e. suggest valid information. In this case particularly and in all such cases, the time spent on researching out here in the "fire swamp" of misinformation is almost never worth the effort. In fact, the only valid strategy here would be to start back with the first person in the Family Tree (latest entry in time) and work back systematically. It is inevitable that this tactic will find that this imaginary type of entry occurs far more recently in these individuals' family trees and that we are spared the effort of trying to validate this imaginary entry.

I do not apologize for using this "back to Adam" entry from the Family Tree. As long as this type of entry exists in the Family Tree, we are far from having a book worthy of all acceptation. To summarize: a source entry goes beyond merely providing some imaginary or bogus place to look for similar information. To provide the drivel cited above is an affront to reason at any level whatever the motivation of the contributor.

Previous posts in this series.


  1. He's even got Adam's Rib for a father in law!

    The entry also appears to be read-only, preventing it from being merged with other drivel and then having deletion requested. However it appears that as recently as December 2016 it wasn't read-only and people were adding to it.

    Those who contribute to entries like this, except people clearly working to remove and delete as much of them as possible should be banned from editing the Familysearch tree. They should be banned until such time as they have had remedial genealogy lessons and clearly demonstrated that they actually have some proper understanding of what they are doing. If they start adding nonsense again after the remedial genealogy lessons then they should be banned from editing permanently.

  2. While I know you have addressed this, I think precision in the use of the term "source" and the term "citation" is critical to this issue. The Bible is the source of some of this information in your example, but it is poorly cited, as I don't know what verses in the Bible based on the citation the information came from or what it was cited to support. Of course, the Bible is readily available and I can review Genesis and find what information in the profile is supported or not.

    It may well be that one of the "sources" listed supports the information entered, but it is poorly cited, and those of us who follow cannot find the source that was used, so that we can evaluate it.

    My own favorite example is the citation "my gedcom" as source for a given entry. It may be accurate that the information was in the researcher's "gedcom," thus the source, but the citation does not allow me to find that source and then evaluate the trustworthiness of the information presented.

    The worst entry is the one without a source, good or bad, poorly cited or not.

    Is that exact date that no one has ever found that magically appears from the long lost family Bible that has been missing for 100 years, or just made up?

  3. "The goal of Family Tree is to create the best sourced genealogy in the world."
    "Offers one collective family tree for all mankind where every person who has ever lived will have one unique record in Family Tree." [ : accessed 27 Apr 2017]

    In reading David's comment, he says the entry you cite is read-only now. If that is so, I don't know what is more the pity, that FamilySearch Family Tree includes individuals from the Old Testament (though Donald Lines Jacobus enjoyed charting the individuals in the Old Testament) that we will not ever be able to connect to living people or the fact that they have made the entries read-only so Family Tree cannot "work" as it should to correct the wrong information.

    Fix-it, open it up, or take it down.