In Part I of this series I discussed how to start your genealogy from the very beginning.
So far we have discussed gathering as much information as possible through relatives you know. Now, it is time to begin gathering information from relatives you may not know you even have. This can be done online, through the use of Message Boards and Family Trees.
Also known as an internet forum or discussion group, a message board is a place for holding discussions, asking questions and posting answers. You can find message boards on nearly every genealogy database on the web. This includes the Ancestry.com Message Boards, Rootsweb.com Message Boards, and Genealogy.com Message Boards among others. Most message boards are indexed by surname and locality in addition to offering a search bar. Most message boards also require registration to use, but this is normally free.
After registering you will be given a Username and password that can be used to Log In to post or answer a question. Once you have found your desired surname message board you may then post a question about your ancestor of that same surname, in the hope that someone who reads it can and will answer your question.
A Family Tree is a genealogical diagram of one’s ancestors, usually represented in a form similar to a pedigree chart. The same genealogy databases listed above also have a place for Family Trees. The family trees on these sites are usually GEDCOM’s that users have uploaded.
Many different search options are provided. You can search for ancestors by name, place, dates of birth or death and more. Any similar entry you find will often be accompanied by the submitter’s email address so that you can contact them if necessary.
There are many questions that arise after searching through online Family Trees, and here is an example of one that I am asked the most:
“I searched for my ancestor on Rootsweb.com and found over 40 different Family Trees for her. Most of them included the same family names but many of the dates of birth and death conflict with one another. Who is right? What should I do?”
It is an unfortunate fact that a lot of incorrect and conflicting information is in circulation in the world of Family Trees and genealogy in general. It may begin with the misreading of or assuming or guessing about certain information and is compounded by those who simply copy and paste said incorrect information into their own family tree without ever verifying it is indeed true.
Connecting the Dots
It is further compounded when someone takes the most complete looking information from multiple family trees and adds those to their own family tree without ever verifying any of it either. Now, it is certainly not criminal to put incomplete or as yet unverified information into your family tree, but it does make it difficult for those of us wanting to know which of the 8 different death dates listed for Aunt Molly is the correct one.
This is where you hope that the creators of the family tree’s in question have included a primary source for their information. Most of the time they have not, and you are left to send them an email telling them of your dilemma and asking them if they have proof that the death date they have listed for Aunt Molly is the correct one. And if you find no one can remember where they got that date of death from or if they don’t respond to you at all, then you write each date down with a note reminding you that you’ll have to find out which date is correct yourself.
Message Boards are much the same. Someone may give you the information you’ve asked for, but when you ask them for source material they can’t help you. So you take what they’ve told you with a grain of salt and set about proving it yourself. This is when things begin to get very interesting. This is when your days as a beginning genealogist end, and entrance into a new realm begins.