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The Immense & Growing Echo Chamber of Genealogically Related Garbage
(Quantity is not Quality)

 

        The monumental success of online collaboratively constructed lineages has resulted in an interesting hobby for some, a fad for others and a brief diversion for many more. This trend has also been a huge financial success for the companies that have been able to exploit this explosion of interest in genealogy. There is little  doubt that this situation has produced many research avenues for some and even a few "eureka" moments. The downside to these collaborative efforts is that they have also produced an immense and ever growing "echo chamber" of garbage information. This garbage is unverified and usually unverifiable information. These owners of the web sites that host these collaborative trees promote and market their products on the premise that they are extremely easy to use and that anyone can find their lineage by entering a small amount of data and then following the feedback "hints" that the host search engine provides. Many of these hints are derived from historical records and documents (verifiable sources) that have been acquired, transcribed or imaged, indexed and digitized. That is, records that a computer can read, analyze and present to the user as no-brainer hints. To far, so good and, to a certain extent, this concept is useful and works well in a limited way; however, it has several very serious drawbacks. First, when the hints are exhausted, the users has not learned anything at all about doing their own research. Also, the process of acquiring, transcribing, imaging, indexing and digitizing data is expensive and time consuming, thus negatively impacting the search engine owner's "bottom line" (profits). Knowing very well that the legitimate sources will eventually always run dry, the site owners program attempt to keep their users interest in several ways. They program their search engine to also include as hints the lineages of their other member trees. The quality of these "hint" lineages varies dramatically from well sourced to not sourced at all. Indeed, when presenting the hints, the link to other member lineages is shown at the top of the list, ahead of all legitimate sources. What is even worse is that the hint lineages claiming the largest number of sources, records and photos are ranked the highest. Very often, the photos are only images of battle flags, sailing ships, minute men, etc and the sources are just references to other unidentified member lineages. So, even though the feedback from the search engine is described as "hints", the member lineages have been equated with sources, whether they contain legitimate sources or not. This is absurd and these hint lineages are absolutely not sources and should not be lumped in with legitimate sources. These hint lineages may contain legitimate sources, but many folks just select the lineage at the top of the list. It is a another no-brainer to them and this behavior is heavily influenced be the site provider. So, many folks just follow the legitimate hints to their end and then simply grasp at the straws of others. Most of the time these straws are the unverified opinions, guesses and theories of other hint followers. For example, we have seen top ranked hint member lineages that list a dozen or more references to other member lineages, but not one legitimate source. This implies that the user did not even attempt to verify the hint lineage, but simply copied it. This behavior is reinforced because the copy processes is also another no-brainer. Again, the most unfortunate aspect of this situation is that the users of the imperfect tools and hints have learned virtually nothing about doing their own real research, so they are totally dependent on the provider's hints and that is, of course, the provider's intent. When a few people do this, others are influenced and they also copy the unverifiable information, thus creating the echo chamber of garbage information; however, it is still odd to us how people defend this unverifiable information by pointing out that many others have apparently copied and published the same information. In fact, we have been asked more than a few times: "How can so many people be wrong?" This is easy for us to answer, but seemingly difficult for the questioners to understand. When a person republishes an opinion, guess, theory, etc., others straw graspers copy it and over time it becomes an avalanche; however, no matter how many times 2+2=3 is copied and republished, it is still incorrect. Basically, quantity is being confused with quality. If the information lacks quality, it has very little value, no matter how great the quantity of this information. Unverified information has almost no quality unless it can be verified. In our opinion, when the trail of readily apparent and verifiable genealogical data ends, the way forward is not to blindly copy the unverifiable opinions, etc. of others. Yes, these opinions can be used as hints, but if they cannot be verified in some manner, they should not be treated as sources or facts and published as such. If opinions, guesses, theories are published, the information and facts that support these opinions, guesses, assertions, legends, etc. should be plainly and visibly explained and displayed.
        When we reach the end of a rather easily verifiable lineage, we try to find each and every sourced fact that can be associated with the end of the line. Sometimes these facts seem insignificant when taken alone, but sometimes, when enough facts are discovered the picture becomes clearer and conclusions can be reached and determinations can be made. These conclusions are many times based on the convergence of a number circumstantial facts, but the body of these individual facts can be used to reach a highly probable conclusion; however, the researcher should document these facts and explain how they were used to reach a conclusion. Using this technique, it is sometimes possible to extend a linage back in time. Fortunately for the people truly interested in creating a verifiable lineage, there are vast numbers of records and documents that that have been imaged, but have not been transcribed or indexed. These images are available in many repositories, but the most prominent is the LDS FamilySearch facility. Here, most people search of a surname of interest, but again this search depends of indexed records. To search imaged, unindexed records, use the "Catalogue" link and search on a location. The more specific the location and date, the better the chances of success. Most of the government records (taxes, land, court, etc.) are individually indexed by year and many are alphabetized. There are other such repositories of valuable research information. Of course, these research techniques take time and patience, as does most real research.
        The above comments are not meant to disparage the record repository nature of the companies discussed. The collection, indexing and display of these records and sources are a valuable asset to virtually all researchers. We willingly pay a sizable fee to access the resources of some companies and we voluntarily provide cash contributions to others.

 

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Created July 20, 2017