31 March 2014

What I Like About Ancestry.com

[this post addresses Ancestry.com specifically, but the general concept applies to all the "big sites"]
I made one of my best genealogical discoveries on  Ancestry.com several years ago.

It was not in one of the "trees." 

It was not in one of the "hints."

That's not how I use Ancestry.com.

Since 1983, I had searched for "my" Ira (or William Ira) Sargent. Born in the early 1840s in New York State or Canada, he eluded me and appeared to have been dropped off by a UFO in Illinois in 1880, just in time for the census.  I had reason to believe that he spent time in Iowa or Missouri before 1880 for reasons I won't bore readers with here. I had found three or four other Ira Sargents who were contemporaries with my Ira in the Illinois-Iowa-Missouri area but had eliminated them as being "mine" for one reason or another. 

I pay regular attention to new sets of images of original records and finding aids on Ancestry.com that might help me find Ira or any of my other "problem" ancestors. I was delighted several years ago to see that a database of Iowa state census records had been released on Ancestry.com. I immediately searched it for Ira Sargent. There were several hits. All but one of the results I could "fit" into one of the excluded Iras.

All but one.

There was an Ira Sargent living in Davis County, Iowa, as a child in 1856. His details were consistent with "my" Ira and he could not be one of the "others." 

It didn't mean I had the right one.

It didn't mean I had evidence and it did not mean that I had a conclusion.

It meant I had a clue which I should follow. And I did.

The location of that census entry was the first crumb of information that lead to more crumbs of information which lead to more crumbs of information which eventually allowed me to connect "my" Ira to his family of origin. Most of those crumbs were not online and making the connections required analysis and thought. If finding Ira had been easy, I would have done it years ago. When I first found this Ira there were no "hints" linking his record to "my" Ira--that linking on Ancestry.com didn't happen until others learned of my discovery and put that information in their online trees.  Ira is one of those large number of ancestors for whom Ancestry.com hints don't work when no one else has found them. When I discovered him no one else had made the connection. (This also makes the point that if you don't want others to share "your" information, you shouldn't share with them in the first place.)

Compounding the problem is the fact that in 1856 Ira is not living with his biological parents. But that's another story and one I've written about in Casefile Clues

The indexes at Ancestry.com, while they can contain errors, do have the potential to bring new information to light. While the hints, the trees, and the indexes have their issues, there is no doubt that discoveries can be made. Just because discoveries can be made does not mean that we should be satisfied with the occasional database that is incomplete or the search that doesn't work quite correctly.

But making those connections is not an automated process.

One still needs to think. 
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