13 May 2012

Is That Really Great Great Grandma?

Provenance means knowing how a record, document, or picture came down to the present time. Do you know how authentic that picture of great-great-grandma you got off the Internet is? Did you simply assume it was a picture of the ancestor because some unknown compiler who refuses to communicate with you said so?

Sharing on the internet is great. Communication is great. But I sometimes have to wonder:

"Is that document, picture, or item really what someone thinks it is? And do they have any clue at all that they really know it is what it is supposed to be?"

I'm tempted to do a really dirty trick. Take an image of an "old" picture off some obscure website and claim it is some ancestor of mine from the same time period. An ancestor for whom I have no picture so that comparisons cannot be made. The image and some text indicating who "it is" would be posted to my website and blog. I might even connect the image to that ancestor's file in public trees on several of the popular websites. All this would be done while I was fully aware that the picture was not of the person I said it was.

And how long would it take before others had linked that picture to their file of the same person? Not long I bet. How many would ask me where I got the picture or how I knew who the picture actually was?

And before you know it, people would be claiming to have a "picture" of this person that really wasn't the person at all. It would be difficult to totally undo the hoax once it had been started which is the reason I'm not doing it.

When you incorporate that picture of an ancestor into your tree do you have any idea how the person who compiled it came to know that the picture actually is the ancestor that's being claimed?

In the "old days" of research we were reliant upon someone's memory to identify people in pictures. And today we still are.

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