Friday, May 29, 2015

Losing a Piece of My Mind

It’s reroofing time at the Stevens household. Thus, it might be appropriate to say I’m losing my peace of mind. However, that is not what I wish to focus on, today. I’m much more frustrated over a discovery made last night—too late to do anything about it other than to stew over what is missing.

The aggravation comes from a widespread genealogical bugaboo, and the avoidance behavior it engenders. The bugaboo is about indiscriminate, wholesale copying of other people’s family trees posted on online sites like The corollary avoidance behavior—at least in the minds of those prone to practicing proactive prevention techniques—is to never put anything online about one’s genealogical connections that might in any way possible not be perfectly correct.

And so, well-intentioned little ol’ me decided, in cases in which there was any hint of a shadow of doubt, to not note my genealogical hypotheses in the form of an entry on my online tree.

The drawback was, when it came to a major discovery of an entirely new branch of my husband's Tully tree, neither did I make a note of my suspicions on my computer-based genealogical database program, either. After all, who wants to pass along error?

Somewhere, out in the many boxes I have stored, containing the files of notes made to myself—pending several bona fide versions of confirmation, of course—is a folder labeled Tully. In that folder is my extensive diagram of an entire branch of the Tully family, now missing because I was too hypersensitive about adding it to a tree that—heavens, forbid—might then be seen and copied by someone before I could attach yet another verifying document.

When I first discovered I had withheld the entry from my tree, I nonchalantly thought, “I’ll just pull it up in my Family Tree Maker file.” No problem. Right?

Except that my outrageous habit had followed me there, as well. No sign of that Tully branch resident in my desktop computer files, either.

With that sinking feeling over realization of how many file cabinets and boxes I might have to sift through before finding a set of temporary, hand-written notes, I began mentally bemoaning that personal policy of being so fussy. In the face of a research brick wall, that type of difficulty puts a researcher between a rock and a hard place. I mean, I can post something publicly that turns out to be in error, though I’ve tried my best to ascertain that it was a good fit in the family constellation where I placed it—and then reap the multiplied errors of other users copying and pasting that same hypothesis into their own family trees.

Or, I can just yank the whole project and switch my Ancestry tree to private status. And nobody gets to see it. Which means I lose out on cousin bait.

Meanwhile, slowly dawning on me are two possibilities.

One is that most of what I had discovered about this extra branch of our Tully family was contained, not in written notes, but mental notes—which meant the possibility that, in forgetting it, I was losing a valuable piece of my mind.

The other is that it was highly likely, as I discovered this potential Tully line, I blogged about it.

The second possibility, mercifully, turned out to be so. I did blog about my discovery of another sibling of John Tully and his sister Johanna—the one whose descendant placed that call to me recently, inviting me to revisit this research. You can find my original thoughts on this Tully sibling discovery in a two part post beginning here and followed up here.

Now that I’ve found at least part of my exploration of this possible other Tully brother, I’ve got to plug it in somewhere in my database. I still cringe to think my hypothesis might turn out to be wrong, but I’ve got to have somewhere to hang this hat in the big framework of the family’s history. If nothing else, I certainly don’t want to lose this data again.

Oh, if there were only a way, on these widely-accessible public genealogical databases, to enter the warning in bold red letters,
            Caveat emptor.

Buyer beware! The family tree data you are about to copy may not be entirely correct. You must perform your own due diligence before cutting and pasting this tidbit!

After all, I might discover I made a mistake. Later—after you’ve come and gone. Let the wise genealogical researcher realize that we all—no matter how hypersensitive we are about documentation—are prone to errors.

Besides, I just need a corner of this genealogical world where it’s safe to test drive those hunches.  


  1. I too, have seen family trees in Ancestry that have entries that are flat out wrong (some painfully obvious mistakes like children born before their parents were born and so on). If there are no "sources" with an entry on a tree - I'm reluctant to even look at them!

    1. There do seem to be many trees with problems. I certainly don't want to add to that confusion. But I do want to use the research tools I've been given, and will likely--albeit reluctantly--be adding this hypothetical connection into the database to see what hints it flushes out. If I have to delete the entry later, so be it. I still say, caveat emptor!

  2. Someone has my grandmother on their family tree with her oldest daughter's married name as my grandmother's maiden name. I have left messages, but no response. You would think that if they cared enough to put it out there, they would check for messages? I would be more than happy to share.

    1. That's so frustrating! Who knows what goes through people's minds. The only thing we can do is be careful to not perpetuate others' mistakes. That's what makes me hesitate so much, though, in adding this hunch to my own tree. I sure don't want to put down wrong information.

      On the other hand, there are solid reasons why I think my hunch is right...which I'll be explaining it's just a matter of getting up the confidence to put it out there. And if anyone wants to message me with a correction, I sure would want to read it and respond!

  3. I, too, am frustrated with the almost comical errors in the Ancestry family trees, but they are so plentiful, I now don't bother getting worked up about them. A suggestion for you is that you could set up a separate tree in Family Tree Maker that you don't upload to Ancestry and when you confirm that this separate "branch" actually fits into your tree, I believe there is a way to merge or append it to your primary tree. I've never done this but I think I've read about it somewhere.

    Best of luck!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! That is a workable solution. And the merge feature is one I've found and utilized in the past, so it is do-able.

      On the other hand, I may just be being too hypersensitive about this. As you know, there really aren't any birth records--other than church records, if they can be found--for the time period in which I'm stuck (a birth in the 1830s). I base my hunch on circumstantial evidence, plus family claims. I have no reason to doubt those family statements about the relationship. I just don't have the "smoking gun" document.

      Bottom line: I went ahead and added the branch to my tree.

      Nothing has exploded...yet.


  4. Glad you found it on the blog! I was picturing you knee deep in a sea of boxes:)

    1. Oh, yeah...someday (I keep telling myself) I've just got to go through all those old file boxes and get them organized and merged with my newer files. I've likely got most of this stuff online and stored on my computer now, as it is.


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