We have all been there – we have been exploring Ancestry.com or MyHeritage and have come across another member’s posted family tree on the Public Family Tree feature containing names of ancestors we are researching as well. We get excited and we start fantasying about how we might be a descendant of Christopher Columbus, King George III, Shakespeare, or whomever it may be. But hold your horses – where did this information come from? Is it accurate? Was the person posting thorough? Is this person making this amazing family tree up out of the blue?
In my opinion, sites like Ancestry.com and others, who allow you to post trees require you to walk a very fine line between accuracy and unknowing mistakes of fellow researchers. These mistakes are not done intentionally or anything like that. When you find another member’s posted tree which is a potential connection to yours you MUST validate through documentation.
For example, I was recently Ancestry.com researching my 4th-Great Grandfather, William Matchett (b.abt 1800 Ireland – d. Nov 6, 1975 Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada) and stumbled across a fellow member’s public
- Parents: James Matchett and Margaret Dobson (both of County Cavan, Ireland)
- Wife: Mary Fraser daughter of John Fraser and Mary Gillis
- Also the sons and daughters of William and Mary
Keep in mind, the furtherest back I validated this line was James Matchett and Margaret Dobson. I noticed the fellow member’s tree had generations further back than James and I was astounded how far back in time the James Matchett line. By the time I was down click the line was going back to the 1300’s in Ireland! I was staring in disbelief at the screen because the earliest I have gone back is to the birth of my 6th-Great Grandfather’s, John H. Newman’s, birth in 1734. After I came back down to earth I started to realize that the line posted on Ancestry.com may not be substantiated with documentation and it was time for my work to begin.
As mentioned previously, I knew that William Matchett’s parents were James Matchett and Margaret Dobson and that was as far back as I could document. The line I found only stated that James parents were John Matchett II and Susanna Creighton. The online family tree I found on Ancestry.com had the line going back to the 1300’s stemming from Susanna Creighton. Susanna’s supposed father was Abraham Creighton (b.1700 – d.1772). Confirming Abraham’s descendants was fairly simple since Abraham was the 1s Baron Erne and there has been a lot of prior research conducted. However, I could not establish a connection or marriage between Susanna and John Matchett II. Actually I couldn’t even establish if Abraham Creighton had a daughter named Susanna.
So there are three steps I need to accomplish before I can confirm the accuracy of the Ancestry.com line I found.
- Confirm that James Matchett (husband of Margaret Dobson) parents were James Matchett and Susanna Creighton.
- Conform that James Matchett and Susanna Creighton were married
- Confirm that Susanna Creighton had a a father named Abraham and that Abraham was the the 1st Earl of Erne
As I am writing this blog post I am still in the process of confirming step #1 and have semi confirmed step #2. For step #1 I have located a group of Matchetts on The Parish Registers for Drung Parish, County Cavan 1735-1827. On this document I found my 5th Great Grandfater, James Matchett, born in March of 1778 (father of William Matchett) and the document states the parents were John Matchett and Susanna (no maiden name). This what I mean by semi-confirmed step #2 – I have found that John Matchett had a wife named Susanna, but I have not confirmed what her maiden name was. I am slowly making progress and hope the line I found on Ancestry.com is true, but I need documentation before I can place this family tree in my genealogy software program, Reunion 10.
I don’t mean to be long winded, but it is important to demonstrate the steps I undertake when I find someone else’s work online. As I mentioned earlier, the poster may have read a document wrong or heard wrong information from another family member. I love Ancestry.com’s Public Family Tree feature because it acts as a guide for research, but I would not take the Public Family Tree section as gospel unless you see documentation within the posted tree. Either way, make sure to do your work as well. Besides what fun is there to taking someone else’s work and putting it into your own tree? After all, the fun lies in the all discoveries you make doing you own actual research!