Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The season for bashing Ancestry Member Trees? Take a second look!

Really, it's been going on for a long time and I don't mean to infer otherwise, but of late it seems to me that it's open season on Ancestry Member Trees. A recent email conversation by a probable new-to-me cousin, a blog post or two by the usual experts, and even more Facebook posts that hold AMTs, or Ancestry Member Trees, up to scrutiny and even ridicule, float by as I comb such trees carefully looking for hints and evidence. And I've found hints and evidence all over the place! Treasures! The Good Stuff!

If you're new to all of this genealogy stuff you might not be familiar with the term AMT and why someone would want to bash them. As you probably know because of their TV commercials you can build a tree on Ancestry by following those shaking green leaves. Enter a name, click on a leaf to find records, photos, stories and all manner of info about your ancestor. It looks so easy!

One of the hints is usually a grouping of Ancestry Member Trees built by other Ancestry members, like yourself. You can choose to add what they've posted in whole or in part, and thereby build out your tree really fast, if you don't take time to question and evaluate what you're adding. In this way - by not carefully evaluating what someone else has put on their tree - you can easily build what some call a "garbage tree" with no real records or sources. You can tell which trees are the garbage trees because the only source you find is a reference to someone else's member tree. It's easy to see why AMTs have a bad reputation!

But, look. It's not the trees themselves or the shaking green leaves or hints that's a problem. It's the way members choose to build out their trees: without records. But there are other, better trees out there, and plenty of them. You just have to look.

Is it just me who is finding gems right there on AMTs? I doubt it! Just last week I was working as a volunteer Genealogy Consultant for our DAR chapter and helping a chapter member with a supplemental application. A supplemental application happens when a woman who is a DAR member and has already submitted an application proving her lineal descendancy from a Patriot Ancestor, then wants to submit another - or supplemental to her original application - proving her lineal descent from another Patriot Ancestor.

We DAR members who are crazy about genealogy simply love preparing supplementals. But those chapter members who might find the application and their research a challenge can request help for one of the chapter's Genealogy Consultants. That's when I arrive on the scene!

So there I was working on a supplemental for a chapter member. It all seemed fine except for one very important aspect of the application and that's the proof connecting generations. What I really wanted was a will but I knew that this guy, the father, died intestate. It was back in the 1760s and civil records of birth were not kept in that time and place. They didn't attend a church with good record keeping habits, so that was out. Land records were also an option but this was a father / daughter connection and so based on previous experience, I know not to get my hopes up. Had checked Ancestry will and probate files and came up empty. I was just about to turn to FamilySearch and getting ready to spend hours and hours "browsing" the probate records when I though to check Ancestry Member Trees for any tasty tid-bits. And there it was! The will of the father naming the daughter and her husband!

Of course I needed a source citation, but now that I had the probate file with will and other papers that some wonderfully thoughtful and caring Ancestry Member had posted to his Individual page, I carefully looked at every one of them checking for hints of where these documents might have come from. Finally, three-quarters of the way down the stack of pages, I saw a tiny pencil handwritten notation at the top. Vol I, pg 408. Gold!!

In no time, I navigated my way through the probate files on FamilySearch and found what I needed. I knew the volume number and page number for one of the images and the will was about four pages before that. Nice!!

Quite recently I've found more and more treasures like this which is interesting. I remember not too long ago when Ancestry users would keep the good goods away from their trees. "I got mine, you work to get yours" was the attitude. But why, what's the point in that? Where's the harm in sharing the best stuff we have? I just paid $40 for three death certificates and believe me when I say that I can't wait to get them scanned and posted to my Ancestry Member Tree.

I have a bunch of stuff I've ordered and received from archives. There's that time I called the courthouse and a kind clerk went and got the document I asked for and emailed it to me! I want to share that too. Share it all. What good does it do to sit in my files here while I hold on to it with my stingy hands? I use it but it would be far better shared and helping others. The individual page on Ancestry is the very best place for me to leave it. 

Oh, yes, I'm aware of the potential to violate copyright in doing this so I do check carefully to see if the location where the document was found has limitations. If so, then I'll post a PDF page stating what was found and where, giving as much info as possible that helps someone else find it as easily as possible.

Wouldn't it be great if we all did this? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all shared our best stuff? Trees would get better and better. Let's do that!

Let's share that good stuff!

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