Thursday, March 29, 2007

Should Unsourced Data be Put Online?

My friend, Lorine, asks on her blog Should Unsourced Data be Put Online?.

Although the purist in me wants every bit of information in my family tree to have impeccable primary sources, I know in the real world of genealogy it doesn't always work like that.

Lorine uses the example of a "a page ripped from an old bible (unsourced, origin unknown)" as an unsourced document that might be the "clue that leads us to facts, to sources that will either verify or disprove the original clue".

I think that every document has a source, even a page ripped from an old bible of unknown origin. As long as the web page clearly states: "Source: page torn from an old Bible, author unknown, found in an antique shop in New Jersey", I believe the document deserves a place online.

It is up to the person using the information to evaluate and assign a surety level to the source - a surety level means how sure you are about the information. Some genealogy programs even have an entry for surety level, but even if yours doesn't, you can always add a note to the source. I like to use a number system for a surety level. I use a high number for information that comes from a primary source, a medium number for information from a secondary source, and a zero to indicate that I am not sure how convincing this source of information is.

But even with a low surety number, that scrap of paper torn from the Bible may hold the key - a previously unknown name or location - to finding those records with primary sources.

And most important, by being listed on the Internet, that page torn from the bible might find its home and provenance. Perhaps somebody owns the original Bible from which that page was torn and knows that when Great Great Grandpa disowned that branch of the family, he tore the page with those names from the family Bible.

So that torn Bible page, author unknown, could not only lead to finding primary sources to support the data, but could also help reunite the missing page with the original Bible in addition to a family reunion of two branches of the family tree that had been lost to each other for over 100 years because of the disowning.

OK, I'm dreaming, but the genealogy world is full of serendipity such as this.

So, is unsourced data found on the Internet reliable? Maybe yes, maybe no. The key is to verify it to find out if it is. But without information like the torn Bible page ever being posted on a web page, you'd never even know this info even existed to be verified.

This type of data may lead to some wild goose chases, but I'd like to be the one to decide if it is worth the chase or not.

No comments: