Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Started an Online Tree Error, or (Mis)Using Blogs as Sources

Oopsie.

I never meant any harm. We were all having such a good time, back in February of 2010. It was the Geneabloggers Games: sources were being cited, data was being backed up - there was activity all over the geneablogging community.

 I was in the middle of work on the Norman family - the ginormongous family of J.M.C. Norman, to be exact. I started on the Newton Leonard Norman family. The oldest child was daughter Dissie.

My trusty guide in this endeavor was Inez Cline. Her Norman Family History, based on extensive interviews with numerous Norman family members, contained this one throwaway line on Dissie Norman: “b. Aug. 5, 1891 d. Oct. 9, 1908 m. Jack Norman, son of Jane. Her other son named Moore. No issue.” No one else had ever listed a husband for Dissie - because her last name never changed.

This led me to try to untangle an intriguing mystery - was Jack Norman related to “my” Normans? - and at every step of the way, another mystery would pop up, making the whole story almost Southern Gothic in its twists, turns, and possible scandals. Central to these mysteries was the identity of Sarah Jane “Aunt Jane” Norman: mother of Dissie’s husband Jackson Norman (apparently illegitimate), mother of Tom Peat Norman (most likely the illegitimate son of a member of a neighboring Moore family for whom Jane had worked as a servant), and finally, last wife of the colorful and oft-married Civil War veteran Zara Cotton.

I ended up writing an 8-post series on this for the Geneabloggers Games:

Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 1
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 2
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 3
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 4
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 5
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 6
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 7
Mystery Normans and Source Citations - Part 8

Part 5, dealing with my efforts to find Sarah Jane Norman’s family, is the misleading post: “I was starting to suspect that Norman was [Sarah] Jane’s maiden name. I went back to look at the entry for her in Findagrave, and was stunned to see a name there that I had somehow failed to see the first time: ‘Daughter of Louisiana Norman.’” “Not to jump to conclusions, but … Joseph Madison Carroll Norman had a sister named Louisiana.”

And this must be the origin of the error for which I am now responsible.

I found this error last night in someone’s Public Member Tree on Ancestry: Husband of Dissie Norman > Jack Norman. Mother of Jack Norman > Sarah Jane Norman. Mother of Sarah Jane Norman > Louisiana Norman. Parents of Louisiana Norman > Thomas S. Norman and Nancy Larue. Those are J.M.C. Norman’s parents. That makes this Louisiana Norman J.M.C.’s sister.

Uh-oh.

This is the only other public tree I have seen with a husband for Dissie Norman. And it is definitely the only tree listing J.M.C. Norman’s sister Louisiana as Sarah Jane Norman’s mother. And my blog is the only place where this relationship has ever been posited.

Note to person with this family tree. Honey, you need to read the entire series. Because in the last post I kind of busted this theory by finding a husband - John Norman - for this Louisiana/Lousa/whatever her name was: “And this John Norman was born in Alabama. That doesn’t mean that he was one of “my” Normans, but it doesn’t rule it out, either.”

So, for what it’s worth: Louisiana Norman, daughter of Thomas Norman and Nancy Larue, was not the mother of Sarah Jane Norman, mother of Jackson Norman who married Dissie Norman, daughter of Newton Leonard Norman.

That and a note to the owner of the Ancestry tree should fix it, right?

Who am I kidding. My half-baked (and busted) theory is going to be perpetuated for eternity.

18 comments:

  1. Feeling your pain. SIGHHHHHHH

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    1. Oh, so you're familiar with this phenomenon... that'll teach us to share!

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  2. I've worried about the same thing happening with my blog since it's a record of my process and any given post might not be the conclusion on a particular line. On some posts I go back and add an update in brackets. I've thought about making sure I do this for every case when my theory and/or conclusion changes.

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    1. Yes, I've thought of doing this, too, but in this case I thought, "Well, the final post clears it up," but as is pointed out below, if someone finds a post through a search, they might not notice that the post is part of a series.

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  3. Uh-oh! Have your last cigarette and prepare for the cotton blindfold!!

    Anyways, don't worry about it too much. I think genealogy is a work in progress, and we can't be worried about the people who want to truncate the experience and go straight for the jugular of absolutes.

    One thing you probably could do when you do an extended series is make sure that each part in the series links to both the next and previous installment, so that you make it ULTRA easy for readers to navigate the whole series (and realize that it is a series in the first place--you'd be surprised at the number of people who don't read post titles).

    Other than that, I don't know what you can do. Alas, it happens to us all. =)

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    1. Jennifer - I like your suggestion and will try to do that for all of my "series" posts in the future. I actually did that for previous series posts I had done, but I was popping these off each day, taking most of my time to put the citations in, so I sort of skimped on the links.

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  4. Anyone serious about genealogy will double-check everything, not just scrape info from a blog (even one as good as YOURS) and paste it into a tree, so this isn't really your fault IMHO. Family trees are never "final" anyway, which is what your blog (and my blog and other gen blogs) are all about. So please don't beat yourself up too badly!

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    1. Thanks, Marian - I'm kind of resigned to what happened, but I think I'll be more cautious about adding "This is PURE SPECULATION" to posts like this.

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  5. ((((Oh Greta))))

    1. Claudia is right.
    2. So was everyone else.
    3. I have folks who copy and paste a birth record for one of my Priscilla's to use as a record for THEIR Priscilla. Not the same Priscilla. I finally got so annoyed I put a comment on my Pricilla stating that mine was not the one they were looking for and then directed them to the tree they were looking for.

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    1. Cheri - Thank you for your sympathy, and your procedure is a good one to use to keep such mistakes from occurring.

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  6. There will always be people that will grab and not verify (or read completely). We can't do much but cringe and hope they get it right someday!

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    1. There was definitely a lot of cringing going on here....

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  7. Hi Greta, I feel your pain. I'm the one who inserts that one little extra character or misspelling so that I know when my notes have been copied. I was wondering did this person attribute the (mis)information she copied to her online tree to your blog? This was a good catch.

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    1. Ginger - Your method sounds like what my husband does - on all of his published work, he inserts one bogus footnote (always the same one) - so that he can recognize and prove that the copy was taken from his work. No, this was an Ancestry tree and there was no indication of where the information came from. On my Ancestry trees I enter place names using my own system (unabbreviated word "County" added, do not include "United States" in location, etc.) so that I know when people have copied simply by clicking on my entries, and I have found several groups of people copied this way from my trees (no big deal to me, just curiosity). On the other hand, some people are more meticulous about showing where their information comes from. One person included in her notes an entire discussion thread from a RootsWeb discussion board in which I had provided information on a heretofore unknown husband of one her ancestors.

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  8. Not your fault someone only read part of the story.

    I hardly ever go back and ETA on old blog posts. I update with the new information and tag the entry as usual.

    On a series, I will generally give links at the bottom of each entry to the other entries in the series.

    Dee at Shakin' the Family Tree

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    1. I'm definitely going to start linking all of my posts. I guess this experience definitely goes to show the weakness of Google searches!

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