Share your work during this New Year

Earlier this month, I watched another  television show (of three seen recently) about the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Virginia.[1]  Hosts for each show have expertise in varying fields such as archaeology[2] and geology[3].  Each approaches the mystery from a different perspective.  If I remember correctly, all hosts interviewed some of the same persons, visited some of the same locations and viewed/ analyzed some of the same items.  Each found something unique with similar but different conclusions.  My suggestion:  Bring all of the hosts together in Roanoke where they share their methods and visit locations again, as a group.  They compare findings and debate differences.  As a group, they come to joint conclusions, noting similarities and differences.  What a wonderful show that would be!

This brings me to the topic of this blog– sharing your genealogical research as a New Year’s resolution.  I tend to work independently.  However, I realize the value of seeking others with similar genealogy interests. Their perspective has often shown me things that I had missed. Or, they delved deeper into a relationship than I had done. Why not build on the work of others?

Reader, beware!  This is especially true in genealogical research.  With the advent of the internet, there are many more ways to share work and misinformation. Build on the work of others but take time to confirm their work.  Confession time– how many of you ever posted questionable or unverified information? Raised-hands I did and it has been haunting me ever since! How many of you copied information because ‘it looks OK’?  Again, guilty as charged!  Although, I am much more careful now than in the past!

I received a typewritten family genealogy from a cousin who had gotten the information from an elderly great-aunt. [4] typed Posten lineageLooks reasonable!   From my dad, I knew names of his dad and his grandfather.  My beginning research efforts gave me the name of James D. Posten, next in line.  So far, so good.  Using this information as a base, I began to prepare my application to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Since James died in 1914, I eventually wrote for, and received, a copy of his death certificate.  Next person in line – Thomas Posten- confirmed!  I also searched from the other direction – from Jacob Postens to Thomas.  I found Jacob’s Revolutionary War Pension file online [5].   Additional information about Jacob’s children and grandchildren was located in two county histories published in 1886[6] and 1900[7].  No Thomas!

More bad news!  Before I verified the information on the typewritten document, I shared it as fact on multiple message boards and my online family tree.  Dispelling this myth has been on ongoing process for the last 7 years.  Even though I readily share the accumulated information about Jacob Postens and his descendants[8], relatives still argue the direct relationship.  No one has produced evidence to prove that we are direct descendants of Jacob Postens and his wife, Ann Burson.

Sharing genealogical findings can be controversial.  Everyone wants credit for his or her work.  So, give credit to that other researcher! “This information based on Sally Ramsey’s online tree, entry for Jacob Holland.” If you disagree with the other person, be respectful:  “Two online tree shows death date for Jacob Holland as 1908; sources are gravestone and church records. Death certificate and family Bible records show death year as 1909.” Contact the owners of the other trees and offer to share copies of all documents.

No one works in a vacuum.  We rely on the work of others to discover our own family roots. Census takers asked questions and wrote answers on blank pages, transcriptionists typed the handwritten pages, someone created the paper and digital indexes, publishers put together the books, and librarians catalogued and shelved the books.  Family members kept great-grandfather’s Bible and your cousin now has it. A relative wrote a biography about your great-great grandmother’s brother.  Newspapers recorded family comings and goings. Local historians published essays and family stories in the county historical society journal.  There is room for error at each step of the process.

In the 1980s, my father-in-law attended an Ellerbee family reunion. He met a man who had written and published an extensive history of the Ellerbe/ Ellerbee/Ellerby family. My father-in-law shared the book [9]with me. The information in this book saved me many hours of research. Connecting the names and information with specific sources (listed at the end of the book) became my task. I found only one piece of incorrect information:  the wives of John Ellerbee (born 1808- died 1885).  In the book (page 14-41), John’s wives are listed as 1st, Martha and 2nd, Elizabeth. Birth dates of children, a marriage record, and census records indicate the reverse.  Comment on my posted family tree[10] begins with his data, cites records and ends with:

Conclusion:  Ellerbe book has the names reversed. Martha was John’s 2nd wife. I am keeping Elizabeth as name of John’s 1st wife without any other proof of her name at this time (August 2011). Any reliable info to keep or change this information is welcome.

This entry acknowledges Mr. Ellerbe’s work and gives the rationale for my conclusion. I am open for comments.

Online family trees are repositories of both correct and incorrect information.  Inconsistent data are not always recognized.  A desire for quantity may override a concern about quality.  A BSO (bright shiny object) lures even an experienced genealogist to stray from their stated objective.

Private or public online family tree?  This remains controversial with pros and cons to each.  Public trees:  Pro (& con) – anyone with access to the website can view your tree.  Anyone can copy your work to his or her tree. You may or may not get credit for finding that elusive document!  Private trees:  people must contact you for information and/or access.  Someone else cannot easily copy your work. This limit may deter anyone from contacting you.

Are my trees public or private? The answer is “Yes”. Some of my trees are public and some are posted on more than one website. My primary reason is for potential contact by other relatives, which has occurred.  My public trees are not as extensive as the trees housed on my computer within genealogical software programs.  I do not post all information on the public trees.  For example, I do not post copies of documents such as birth, marriage, death certificates that I paid for! I do include a note: “Tree owner has copy of birth certificate.” I also do not post information that others may not readily know.  Other trees reside only on my computer or on paper.  Most common reason is tentative nature of the information.  I do not have any online trees that are labelled as ‘private’.  No specific reason. You decide what to do about your own family trees.

Suggestions about sharing:

  1. Share your findings based on personal preferences. “Willing to share summary of information from multiple sources.” “Richard married Rita in 1932 per marriage certificate.  Daughter, Sarah, born 1929 per 1940 census.  I have copy of Sarah’s death certificate which lists Sarah’s mother as Donna King.”
  2. When in doubt, say so. “Two families with similar names found in this county; this may not be correct family.” “1910 & 1920 census suggest birth year of 1889; death certificate lists birth year of 1891.”   “Maiden name Smith per Jones family history; need to confirm with other sources.”  “Jacob Postens as direct ancestor from typewritten pedigree from elderly aunt; relationship not supported by multiple sources; contact tree owner for more info”.   “Handwritten name looks like Sa____son.”
  3. Be kind. Please check dates.  Betty would have been 8 (or 65) years old when 1st child born.”  “I visited John & Jennie’s grave last week. They are buried in Roberts Cemetery, not Robinson Cemetery.  May have been a transcription error.”  “I respectfully disagree with you on this point. My reasons are . . . .”  “I see your point and have made a note on my tree.”
  4. Check your own work carefully. “Middle name reported as Amelia and Ash by relatives; no documents found to support either one; changed here to initial ‘A’ .”
  5. Compliment good work. “I really like how you report discrepancies and questions.” “Thanks for sharing the pages from the old Bible.” “Thanks for full reference to newspaper obituary.”  “Your post about James’ parents is consistent with my own research.  I think that you are on the right track.”
  6. Admit your mistakes. “I shared the typewritten pedigree from elderly aunt and did not verify information.”  “Surname transcribed as Roberts by me when looking at handwritten census; marriage record & death certificate indicate name was Robertson.”  Your admission may save others from making the same mistake later.

So, during this New Year, resolve to share your work within limits set by you. Use the work of others and acknowledge their contributions.  Respect the opinions of others even when different than yours. Record your mistakes and make the necessary changes.  “Please” and “thank you” are still politically correct!

FYI — Yes, I became a Daughter of the American Revolution, using dad’s mother’s ancestor, Thomas Ostrander of New York.  Initially, I spent 3-4 months on the Jacob Postens’ line and got very discouraged.  A D.A.R. member suggested that I look at the women and this produced my connection to Thomas.  Lineage from me is:  Daniel Richard Posten (dad), Jennie A. Richards (dad’s mother), Ostrander Richards (Jennie’s father), Sarah Ostrander (Ostrander’s mother, 2nd wife of Nathaniel Richards; she died shortly after her son’s birth), Thomas Ostrander.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hiREFLECTION  This entire post is a reflection of my experience about sharing and the negative effect of misinformation.  What helped:  acknowledging that not everything you get from older relatives is necessarily true.  Access to internet and multiple other sources.  Kept lots of notes!   What didn’t help:  Initial reluctance to acknowledge that older relative could be wrong. Being totally stumped by brick wall.  Next steps:  Question everything! When you hit a brick wall, put the work aside and review later.  Keep extensive notes in journals, genealogical software, and research logs.

Another way to share:  Share your work with a genealogy buddy – It’s time to get a genealogy buddy

[1] Bill & Jim Vieira, Return to Roanoke: Search for the Seven; (video documentary, aired 4 January 2018; distributed by History Channel), television.

[2] Josh Gates, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, Expedition Unknown series; (video documentary; Season 3, Episode 4, distributed by Travel Channel), television. The Travel Channel.com (http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/expedition-unknown/episodes/the-lost-colony-of-roanoke  : accessed 10 January 2018.

[3] Scott Wolter, Mystery of Roanoke, American Unearthed series (video documentary, Season 1, Episode 7; aired 1 February 2013; distributed by History Channel, television. History Channel (http://www.history.com/shows/american-unearthed/season-1/episode 7   : accessed 10 January 2018

[4] Posten family traditions regarding ancestors of John Posten (born 1887), Ruby Grace Gardner, compiler (Pedigree and notes privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma) as reported by Vera Posten Brooks, ca. 1989.  A handwritten note on the document states, “I don’t know how accurate it is.”

[5] Deposition of claimant, Ann Burson Postens, widow’s pension application no. W3296; service of Jacob Postens, state of Pennsylvania; “Revolutionary War Pension and bounty-land warrant application files, 1800-1900”, images, Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com :  accessed 12 July 2017),  Jacob Postens, citing Case Files of Pension and Bounty-land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, compiled ca. 1800-ca 1912, documenting the period ca 1775-1900, M804 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration [n.d.], Roll 1957.

[6] Alfred Matthews, History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Co, 1886), p. 1127; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/details/historyofwaynepi00math   : accessed 12 July 2017).

[7] Commemorative biographical record of Northeastern Pennsylvania including the counties of Susquehanna, Wayne, Pike and Monroe, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co, 1900), pp. 1438-1439; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org :  accessed 12 July 2017).

[8] Susan Posten Ellerbee, “Jacob Postens: Our Ancestor?”; (MSS, July 2017; privately published by Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma.  

[9] Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc, 1986).

[10] Susan Ellerbee, “Jerry Donald Ellerbee Tree,”, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/60654669/person/48059652815/facts  : accessed 15 January 2017), “John E. Ellerbee”, John’s wives (comment).

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