In a previous post I espoused using ancestry.com to to genealogical research, and how it could be used to honor our ancestors. If you start doing research on your ancestors when you are linking one relative to another there are two primary methods to linking.
First is links to other people’s trees. If you have a relative in your tree, and it seems to match another persons tree, you can attach information about their immediate family members to your tree. (Why you can’t just grab their tree from that point forward and attach it to yours seems silly, but it is what it is).
The other approach to getting information about ancestors is through records. Military records, census records, etc.
Now each of these has its benefits in detriments.
The big advantage of official records searching is that you can be reasonably sure they are accurate. Sometimes there may be a misspelling, or a year or off or two, but you won’t have anything way out of kilter. The disadvantage to them is the information can be sparse.
This is particularly true for recent (20th century and later) relatives), and extremely old (prior to 1776) relatives. In these two time frames you may encounter relatives that there are no records at all on file at ancestry.com.
Now the big advantage of using other people’s trees is that there’s lots of information there that’s readily available. However, you don’t have any documentation (other than that persons word) to back up the information. In addition, you may have 2-3 people that have different information about a relative, such as a date of birth, parents, siblings, etc. You are then left scratching your head not knowing how to evaluate who is correct. In many cases you can use a “consensus” model to determine what facts are correct. This is by no means a perfect approach to the problem, but it is a potential solution.
You could also elect to say if there’s a dispute at all, you don’t include it in your tree.
How do I approach it with an ancestor I’m researching? Well first, I start with the records and look at them, are there any that appear to contain good solid information? For example, a marriage certificate saying “abt 1625″ is in my mind, less likely to be accurate than “mar 25, 1626″ Look at the records that seem to be definitive and start by adopting those into the record for the ancestor. After you’ve adopted all the good ones, then go back and compare your information on the person with others, and see how it matches up. Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve adopted a record that is likely assigned to another person, or you may decided that “researcher X” is simply incorrect, based upon the records that you’ve seen.