“Stupid or Crooked…” You decide.

Last week I attended the lunch meeting of the Salt Lake Chapter, Association of Professional Genealogists.  Although I was a founding member of APG,  it has been a long time since I attended meetings. Very nice to renew friendships with the 12 professional genealogists  (plus me) who were there.  The discussion was the APG Code of Ethics.  And the lunch was delicious.

Item one for discussion was the requirement to use undocumented family trees available on the internet as part of the final report to the client.  And how to protect oneself from being docked in pay for not using undocumented family trees from the internet. Many sites preserve such genealogies, including Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.  The reason given by administrators of these sites for accepting undocumented work is that clues can be a beginning point for Where to look?  Who to look for?  How far back has the line been traced?

For a long time, I tried to include these trees–although I work for myself, not a genealogy research firm.  I even worked hard to document what appeared on the screen–in case the names, dates, places, relationships, and migration patterns were correct.  Or, at least correct enough to serve as a beginning point.

Time spent checking, correcting, documenting, too often took up all the paid time of the client, leaving little or no time to trace the right lineage or to document the client’s own ancestors.

You see, we live in an age where indexes to census records and marriages and biographies and wills are readily and easily available.  If you want to spend your research time sitting at a computer keyboard, you can find persons of the right name, the right age, the right place of birth, the right place of residence, even the right names given originally for the parents and some siblings.

Take the quest for Mary Ellen Keating born 22 Mar 1869 to William Patrick and Catherine Keating/Katen/Caton.  Mary Ellen’s census records state she was born in Ohio (family members speculated Cincinnati) and Pennsylvania (the family speculated somewhere near Scranton).  There are hundreds of Mary, Mary E., Mary J. Keatings in both places.  Even a couple of Marys and a Mary E. with parents William and Catherine.  Take your pick.  Unless you want the right Mary Ellen as I do.

Take the search for Ethel Conroy, left an orphan by the deaths of her parents.  She had a sister named Claire, who according to family discussions, also died when she was a young child.  I made a research trek to Ethel’s reported town of residence.  Found the father was killed in a railroad accident, leaving a widow and two small daughters.  Claire was one of the daughters  and she was buried as a young child in the cemetery next to her father.  Although Ethel was not mentioned by name, could any story match more closely than this one, I said to myself? 

When I got to the church to document the christenings of the two girls and the burials of their parents, I discovered that the Conroy buried in the cemetery did not have a wife named Margaret, nor a daughter named Ethel.  His family members were named something else entirely–and the surviving daughter was not sent to Ohio to be raised by relatives, she stayed there and was married from that same church.

What’s more?  Other persons were tracing these same people and their inquiries and family data were also preserved at the church.  I left that town and retraced my research steps–at my own expense.  Eventually found the right Ethel Conroy and documented her.

I could give you chapter and verse from dozens of other examples where the information posted online is not the right family, although the details are tantalizingly close.  My files include those undocumented lineages.  They were not included in my report to my client.  Why waste the client’s good research money describing what is wrong?

Dock a genealogist’s pay because they do not document online family trees  Or, worse, dock their pay for not mixing them into reporting correct research details?  What thinking professional would do it more than once? 

Three other potential violations of the Code of Ethics were also discussed in brief.  #1 took up the bulk of the meeting.

My attendance was well rewarded:  a great lunch, good fellowship with genealogy friends, some insight into the state of professional genealogy, and much gratitude that I work for myself and for clients who want their own ancestors–proven and documented from the records themselves. 

Now, having said all that, I use other people’s work to prevent duplicating good research.  And to get the benefit of knowledge left behind by earlier generations, that may be lost from the memory of today’s family members.  And to ensure that I track the right ancestor–it is so easy to follow the wrong lineage.  I do the math.  I check the printed version against the original documents, where they still exist.  And I keep in my files those family trees that do not fit, but where those families live in close proximity with those that do fit.  And I take great pains to chart the data as I go–so if I make a mistake, I can correct it before all of the client’s funds are used up.

I invite my gentle readers to comment on these notes–otherwise I may have to stand alone against undocumented family trees.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle    http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Stay tuned for some key changes in my speaking schedule–giving many of you an opportunity to attend a workshop or conference near you where I will be speaking.

PPS  And Watch for the announcement of my new book and information catalog for 2012!  Time I did a new catalog to entertain and instruct you (Oh, and give you a chance to increase your success rate.)

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