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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Take Responsibility for Your Work
by Rhonda R. McClure

February 15, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

While recently attending the annual GenTech conference, an interesting question came up. GenTech is an annual genealogy conference devoted primarily to the aspects of computer genealogy. It is no wonder then that there was a heavy presence in the vendor hall of those companies with technical aspects.

The question asked of myself and the other individuals manning the booth was, "Does your company verify the family history of those who submit their trees to your databases?"

Just whose responsibility is it?

The Company Should Be Responsible

When we answered in the negative, the individual asking the question prepared to show us the error of our ways. We tried to explain that if the company was to verify all the work submitted to their pedigree database that the costs would have to go up, and the number of trees shared would have to go down.

He did not think this was an acceptable answer. He pointed out that the genealogical community was not going to accept our answer. While I was not going to belabor the point with this individual, it did get me to thinking. Should we, the genealogical community, be demanding verification of our research by someone else?

I then began to look at other records that we use in compiling our family history. We use books often. Some of them may be compiled family histories. Others are abstracts or transcriptions. Some are published by individuals, others are published by publishing companies.

For some reason though, when we use a family history book we do not demand of the book publisher that the information be verified. In fact, we understand that despite the author's or compiler's best effort, there may be errors. We know to verify the information found in the book with as many primary and original documents as possible.

This got me to wondering why we feel compelled to demand perfection of the CD companies or the Internet companies. Why are they required to uphold a separate set of rules? Why are they held to a much different standard?

It's the Price

I asked this question of someone and they thought for a moment. The answer they gave did surprise me. It's the price. Instead of pulling the book off the shelf at the library and finding "negative evidence" they have paid for the CD and come away empty-handed.

My first response to that is that's not a good reason. There are many times that we purchase a book and still we don't hold the company responsible for the work of the author. A CD-ROM includes the work of many authors, although actually they are compilers.

My second response is money-back guarantee. Many of the CD-ROM database companies offer some sort of a money-back offer. Whenever I am talking before a group, I tell them to use that guarantee. Then they don't have a negative feeling about the company, nor do they feel like they have been cheated in any way.

Of course, it is easier to simply blame the company. They put out the CD-ROM. They took your money. They are the big bad company. No, they are company encouraging the sharing of genealogical information. Unfortunately not every researcher includes source citations.

In Conclusion

Whether I am working with a CD-ROM, a published book, or a less-than-ccurate original record, such as the census, it is up to me to verify the information. It is up to me to evaluate the source honestly and then see if there is another resource that will offer me a better, or more accurate answer to my research question. And it is up to me to show, through example, by citing my sources. I should cite my sources in my database so that when I share either in print, on CD-ROM or on the Internet, I know that the research I am sharing can be accurately evaluated by those using it.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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