Sunday, November 08, 2009

always check sources to kill myths

from my Usenet email by Chris Reynolds:-

I provide a help service for people who have hit a brick wall with their Hertfordshire Ancestors. In a nummber of cases the problem arises because they have copied someone else's research without checking , That persn had copied from dsomeone else with out checking - and so on - and the first person in the chain had made an error - so everyone is wrong because no-ne had bothered to check.

I have just posted an example of what can go wrong on my web site - in this case a shipping clerk in 1635 recorded the names of people who went on board "The Hopewell", As more people arrived he recorded less and less detail about them, making (by 21st century standards) many spelling and other errors. One of these errors is obvious to anyone with a knowledge of 17th century documents and Hertfordshire place names. However the error is easily overlooked by those simply looking for ancestral names on the list. As a result 99% of the references I have found on the internet given the wrong place of origin for the ancestor - in most cases assuming that if an adult travels from a (non-existant) place they must have been born there!

Answers: The Myth of Stanstede Abbey (Hertfordshire Genealogy):


There is overwhelming evidence that there was no such place as Stanstead Abbey - and the two 17th century documents which name such a place were created under circumstances where confusion between 'Stanstead Abbey' and 'Stanstead Abbots' was very likely.

An online search found 2 web pages which used the information accurately as part of a family tree. At the same time about 200 web pages contained wrong or misleading information - an error rate of 99% !!!
There may be many other copies of the incorrect information on submitted family trees, and other sources

In researching your family tree you should note the words of the poem at the head of this page [The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Caroll]. Saying something 3 times - or 200 times, does not make it true. If the information comes from a single source the truth, or otherwise depends on how reliable the source was when it was written, and the accuracy of any subsequent copying (perhaps by hand many years ago), transcription, indexing and interpretation.

Much of the family tree information currently on the internet has been assembled without proper checks and safeguards, often by people who are only collecting as many names as possible with minimal effort. Other people's family trees should be considered as potentially unreliable - particularly if the primary sources (i.e. the original contemporary sources) are not identified. The fact that the family tree is well presented, or has been entered onto the IGI is no evidence that it is correct.

Remember: It is important to understand each source - how, where, why and when it was written - to judge the potential accuracy of the document. Simply 'ripping out' the reference to someone whose name means he might be your ancestor from a document, index or published family tree and ignoring the context is a recipe for error."


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