If you have ever gone into a store with a young child or two or more in tow, you probably said something like this: "Do not touch anything!" You may have even said the same thing several times during your navigation of the store. I suppose that all of us have latent memories of being told not to touch things in our childhood. If you have had the opportunity to go to a museum or other similar establishment lately, you might have seen an area of the facility dedicated to touching objects, such as bones or rocks or whatever. These exhibits are a reaction to the commonly imposed injunction not to touch anything.
Interestingly, those latent memories come back to haunt us in our adulthood.
As genealogists, we navigate through the online world with this childhood baggage completely intact. Now, we have a huge online collection of data called the FamilySearch.org Family Tree that is like the special exhibits in the more modern museums. We are encouraged to touch, change, edit, update, and delete information. This is a very scary prospect and goes against everything we have been taught since childhood. But like it or not, the Family Tree is full of junk.
Let me define "junk." Junk is "old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value." However, we also remind ourselves of the danger of discarding junk with the statement, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." In our society, we also have a class of people who have an extreme psychological fear of discarding anything that we call "hoarders."
As genealogists, we need to resist the temptation to keep everything. But at the same time, we need to discard only those items that have no value. Hmm. How do we determine the value of genealogical items? Good question.
The interesting thing about the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is that it is entirely public. There are no basements or attics to hide away the junk. All of the entries on the Family Tree concerning the deceased are entirely visible to everyone. In effect, we can jointly determine what is and what is not junk. Obviously, there will be disagreements. In those cases, we should err on side of preservation. But in most cases, the junk in the Family Tree is merely baggage left over from a hundred years or more of accumulation. Perhaps we can think of the process more as a pruning rather than a dumping of the data.
So what is junk in the context of the Family Tree? Of course, I am just expressing my opinion, but I will be very conservative in that opinion. Because of the topic of this post series, I am concentrating on sources. Here are a few examples.
First of all, this "source" is no longer available online. Here is what Ancestry has to say about this source:
OneWorldTree can give you hints about your family history but not necessarily facts. There are a number of sources consolidated in OneWorldTree and it's impossible to know if there were errors in member-submitted family trees. Also, occasionally the computer algorithms in OneWorldTree incorrectly linked people with similar names.The link to the OneWorldTree on the Ancestry.com page, "OneWorldTreeish" no longer works. Do we keep this as a source? Doesn't it give us all the information about where the user obtained his or her information? Doesn't it let us all know where the information came from and provide us with a hint? The key here is that this "source" is no longer available. In this case, there are also historic sources that are cited to support the death and birth dates. Junk or not?
Let's look at another example.
Doesn't this entry fall into the same category as the first example? Do we keep it or not? Are Public Member Trees from Ancestry.com sources? This question raises an issue of our definition of a source. Do we really want links to other user contributed family trees as the support for the information in the Family Tree? I am inclined to think that we do not want this type of source.
Here is another example to think about.
This is not a source by any stretch of the imagination, even though the contributor is identified. The main reason for this conclusion is that the entry does not identify the document or record used to support the birth information. It might help to see who this "source" supported:
Neither this source or the previous one citing to the OneWorldTree give us any idea where the birth and death information were obtained. In addition, the birth information for this individual was likely calculated from the death record. However, no citation to a death record is provided. Putting these "sources" into the Family Tree gives an illusion of accuracy and dependability without any substance. This particular line continues on for many generations without any good or bad source citations. As I have noted previously, anyone can use the ID numbers or names of these individuals to see the entries in the Family Tree.
One last entry for consideration. This one concerns the following family:
Here are the sources listed. I have blurred out the contributors for obvious reasons. Any questions about whether or not this is junk?
I wouldn't mind examining the Church record of Adam's birth, but unfortunately, the source citation is not complete enough for me to find the record.
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