Monday, December 4, 2006

Don't Jump.... To Conclusions

Here's a deep thought, what is the truth when it comes to genealogical information? This evening, I attended a talk by Arlene Eakle (blog) who made an interesting statement. She said that documented information is simply information that has its source defined.

Over the years, many people have cautioned about online information and its validity, and I've blogged about anonymous websites and unsourced information that continue to compound the problem. If your a genealogy webmaster, you owe it to your visitors to explain where your information came from, the original source AND who interpreted it. That's another distinction Alrene made. We often say that information was transcribed, which is appropriate for clearly type documents, but for hand-written documents it really is interpretation.

I've learned this first hand with my ww2 war ration book project. My enthusiam oftens clouds my judgment as I didn'r realize what I was getting myself into with this project. I never imagined running around my house to stare at a little book in different lighting with a magnifying glass to figure out what the surname is. My wife now knows if I approach her and hand out a ration book, it means I'm baffled and need a second opinion.

So, sure people have gotten the message about trusting information, but I wonder how many apply that rule to the less professional looking sites. Do they trust the information found on Ancestry.com as opposed to some of the personal web pages? Shouldn't they trust Ancestry.com?

A point was made in another session I attended today that the census data on Ancestry.com was actually transcribed (and thus intepreted) in countries where English is not the primary language. And thus the people interpreting the handwritten census records are not familiar with Anglican names. Interesting point.

It seems like all genealogy companies be more responsible with the information they publish by clearly stating who was responsible for the interpretation. Not necessarily name the person (for privacy reasons), but stating a first initial, last name, and regional information (country or state).

I'm going to take a closer look at this topic and consider adding this extra piece of information to the databases published at Genealogy Today. It would probably also be interesting to clarify whether the source was typed or hand-written.

Genealogists should ask the webmaster, or the company providing the information, whether the source was handwritten, and if so, who did the interpretation. Don't just assume that because its online that the transcriber did an accurate job. I can now say with experience that dealing with handwritten documents is not an easy prospect.

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