There is no doubt that Ancestry.com has changed the way that professional and novice genealogist alike conduct at least some of their research. It is at the very least a pit stop on the trail of tracing an ancestor down. However in the 15 years or so that I have been using Ancestry there has developed a very disturbing trend that has potential to do great harm to the unwary.
I’m sure you will have come across the lovely green leaves that offer hints on our ancestors, these can be very helpful (or not). However be very wary of the hints on the public family trees. These trees can often offer trees that go back generations, far further back than you have ever managed to get… How, you wonder, has someone managed to trace a farm labourer from Lincolnshire back to 1431? Then you look a little closer and things just don’t add up, you have babies being born after parents have died, or no citations of where they got the information from and when you check the records for that parish there is nothing. Whats worse is I can guarantee you’ll find several like it, people will blindly copy a tree just because someone has managed to get so far back. I understand the excitement of finding something new I really do, but please please check check and triple check the validity of what you are putting into your own tree.
Unfortunately, these mistakes aren’t just reserved for the Tudors… you may well find people arguing over your grandparent’s birthplace or date or even how many siblings they had.
Ancestry describes the database as follows:
“This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have
indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can
change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees.
You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information.”
In another document, there is the following usage hint (which I initially thought
“These trees are easy to upload, easy to copy, easy to source with bad information,
and do not include a user’s original sources or notes (the linked sources are only
those Ancestry.com databases a user individually adds to each person, a time-consuming
and error-prone process). As such they are often of poor quality, and
even those of good quality lose most of their supporting documentation upon upload
and are therefore of limited use to later researchers. In addition, as they can only be
viewed by Ancestry.com members, they are of limited use to the community as a
This is why many Genealogist will tell you to use with caution. My personal stance is to avoid them completely. By all means, use the hints, you can find all the birth, marriages and death indexes, use proper citations, and then you know your research is correct.