Keeping it Accurate: How Do We Correct Genealogy Errors?

Note: It’s a bit ironic that the Queen of typos and mistakes wants to write a blog post about them but I need to make a distinction between errors we unknowingly commit and those that we ignore or worse yet promulgate for some other reason. We all make mistakes and we all inadvertently pass on erroneous information. I will spend the rest of my life cleaning up messes in my own tree. That is a given.

This post was inspired by a pamphlet that I had been trying to get corrected or removed from sale for many years by a Family Genealogy Association. The original article appeared in none other than the highly respected New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1926. And it points out a major issue with printed genealogical matter. What was true nearly one hundred years ago, with additional information, may not prove to be true now. The article is titled The Sheldons of Bakewell, Derbyshire, England and Isaac Sheldon of New England by J. Gardner Bartlett of Boston. In this case the author handled the material beautifully and it has much valuable information on both the descendants of Isaac SHELDON of Windsor, Connecticut and his descendants AND the SHELDONs of Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. So far so good.

Vol 80 pg 380 of NEHGS Register

Note the operative word is “probable.” Then further on we get more of the squishy word “probable”.

Vol 80 pg 397 of NEHGS Register

And finally continued on the next page the probable is now “identical.”

Vol 80 pg 398 NEGHS Register

In the meantime trees everywhere have Isaac Sheldon connected to Ralph SHELDON in Derbyshire. It happens in a thousand other ways daily. Fast forward to 2014 when I contacted the Family Tree DNA project administrators for the SHELDON DNA Project: Peter & Jeanne Jeffries. There were no groupings in the project and it was difficult to see who was related to whom when I contacted them. In short order I organized the project into groups and without knowing anything about the 5 SHELDON progenitors I was able to tell Peter and Jeanne that 3 Progenitors fell into one grouping and two in the other. The three that were in the first group which I named Group A were descended from the SHELDONs of Bakewell in Derbyshire and the other 2 which I called Group B were not [Though my working theory is they are from the SHELDONs of Warwickshire]. So the above “Probable” Isaac SHELDON suddenly became the impossible to be related to Ralph SHELDON of Derbyshire. They are not even close as Group A is YDNA Haplogroup E and Group B is YDNA Haplogroup R. So no matter how hard one might like the evidence to line up and prove this earlier genealogy it does not. There are a lot of takeaways from this:

  • Older genealogies, even from reputable sources must be checked against newer evidence
  • If you are aware of problems with older evidence we all have a responsibility to correct it whenever we can
  • Just because we find a baptism or birth for someone with the same name does not mean they are the same person
  • Like an scientific pursuit we are often dealing with “working theories” until better evidence presents itself, we should not be wedded to anything
  • If we belong to or know of an organization selling outdated materials we need to lobby to get them amended or removed from sale

Sadly that last one has taken me years and has been quite contentious–attacking sacred cows can be difficult and hazardous to your health. But somehow having the TRUTH prevail is its own reward. At the end of the day we can only point the way—people will believe what they want to believe. I just did a search for Isaac SHELDON on Ancestry he appears in 16,325 public trees. Of the first ten pages of trees every single one has Isaac SHELDON as the son of Ralph SHELDON (1605-1651) and Barbara STONE. Correcting the record is an uphill battle. That does not mean we should not keep at it.

For the Record: I welcome, edits corrections, and new information. I learn from my mistakes as opposed to those that never make them. [winks]

Kelly Wheaton © 2022. All Rights reserved

9 Comments on “Keeping it Accurate: How Do We Correct Genealogy Errors?”

  1. Firstly I’s like to challenge you as the queen of typos.
    THANK you for your excellent post which I am distributing to my Australian networks. I am in awe at the amount of work you have done to discover the truth, congrtulations.

  2. From your post: At the end of the day we can only point the way—people will believe what they want to believe. So true and I learned that years ago when I did a long term experiment with one of my husband’s ancestors. Almost every online tree has his ancestor linked to parents in PA when he lived in MD. There is absolutely no evidence connecting them – they just share the same surname of Whitmer.

  3. If it hadn’t been for you, Kelly, I’d still be laboring under a false understanding of the origins of the Sheldon branch that I belong to. Though I did rather like the thought that both sides of my family emanated from Derbyshire, I’m actually very excited at the prospect of my ancestors passing by Warwick Castle as they went about their lives. You WILL eventually get the evidence to prove it, thanks to the DNA gods. Anyway, I appreciate the posting about the pitfalls of relying on old research, as well as the appreciation of all those folks DID get right given the tools at hand. I wonder if some sort of disclaimer can be inserted or added to the description of the publication to alert purchasers which specific information is incorrect based on recent proven research, My biggest complaint about all our forebears is their propensity to name their children the same names over and over and over again. What a headache!

  4. If the original publication was from the NEHGS, would it help to contact that organization and see if anyone has done further research and offer the evidence that you have?

    • I tagged them on Twitter. But there are hundreds if not thousands of corrections and changes over time. There’s a difference in publishing something long ago and selling it today.

  5. Pingback: EVERYTHING is a Working Theory: Beware of Sacred Cows | Wheaton Wood

  6. Pingback: Best of the Genea-Blogs - 16 to 22 January 2022 - Search My Tribe News

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