27 February 2015

Ancestry, I'm Not From Jersey County and Spelling Errors Are Bad Enough!

We've blogged about this in the past, but since the errors have fallen on apparent deaf ears, we're mentioning it again.

One always has to take database search results with a grain of salt. That's always been true and will continue to be true.

One should always look at the actual image from which the database entry was created because transcribers, as humans, make errors, and sometimes additional details simply don't into a nice "field" in a database. 

But when databases have fields keyed incorrectly it's a problem because it impacts how searches are conducted. 

A search for "Goldenstein" in the "Indexed County Land Ownership" maps at Ancestry.com located this reference to T. Goldenstein.

It indicates that the 1916 map is from Prairie "Town" in Jersey County, Illinois. The fact that it should be Prairie Township is minor compared to the real problem.

The map isn't for a township in Jersey County, it's a map for Prairie Township in Hancock County. This was what I was actually hoping because I was unaware of any Goldenstein families in Jersey County.

The screen shot below is part of the actual map image. It shows that the database classifies the map as being from Jersey County, but the title page clearly indicates Hancock (oops!).

To keep the image size reasonable, I cut off the bottom portion of the map-which is where T[onjes] Goldenstein's farm was in section 36. The database entry was correct that he's listed on this image.

However, I quickly recognized the map and knew the reference to Hancock County (on the top of the page no less, was correct). The farm my grandparents lived on (not owned by them in 1916) is shown in orange. My uncle Andrew Newman's farm is shown in blue and my great-great-grandfather J. M. Habben's is shown in purple. Tonjes Goldenstein was an uncle as well--I have a lot of connections in Prairie Township.

But that's not the point. I shouldn't have to make discoveries because I stumbled upon someone else or I have a hunch the database entry is wrong. This error is not a simple spelling or transcription error. The location is wrong and that location is clear on the document itself. 

If Goldenstein had been a more common name, I would have narrowed my search parameters to only include Hancock County. 

And that wouldn't have located this reference using the database. With unusual names like Goldenstein "incorrect" entries aren't a "huge" problem because searchers often don't narrow their searches as much as they do when the names are common. But entries of this type are a problem.

And they really are a problem with a last name like Smith or Jones.

I'm not holding my breath that this gets fixed, but we will see. 

In the meantime, always consider the possibility that the database entry could have something wrong besides how your ancestor's name was spelled. 

As if searching for spelling variants isn't bad enough.

Note: In reference to the title of this post, there's nothing wrong with being from Jersey County. It's just that's not where I'm from--I'm a 6th generation Hancock Countian.