Genealogy, Data Quality

Data Quality is the first in a series of posts on “Genealogy Gotchas”.

(I thought this might present useful tips & pointers to our readers while I await your votes on my little poll.)


One of the biggest problems I encounter when using tools like Ancestry, RootsWeb, HeritageQuest, or FamilySearch is that much of the available data is of extremely poor or questionable quality.  Before I proceed any further let me clarify:

I do NOT mean the original source data presented by any of the aforementioned sites is of poor quality. Source data from them forms very the background of our on-line life-blood.  We really can’t do without the source documentation

The data I worry about involves family trees, GEDCOM files, Family Histrories, relationships of individual to families or family members, and the like.  Basically anything that has been touched by a user should be dealt with very carefully.

Why you might ask???

On the surface, it would seem that user derived family trees etc. ought to provide a researchers, like us, with a handy short cut; and they can.  But… they can also lead you astray.  It doesn’t take too much to find obvious cases of this problem;  here is an example (please open and examine it). This could have been an excellent datapoint for me; sadly, it isn’t. (Truly, I am looking for birth and marriage data for a Julie “purported to be Lafaille”, born in Quebec about 1800.  Her husband is my g-g-g-grandfather Joseph Deo/Deyo of Altona, NY born about 1800).

So what are the problems with this record set?  Well there are many including:

  • You should notice that none of the involved records, and there are three, point to original source information.
  • The birth is cited as being “About 1774   , , Quebec”. What exactly does that mean? Where is the supposed birthplace exactly :Quebec City or Quebec Province? When was it? It is all pretty vague when you think about it isn’t it?
  • If you look at the parents information by clicking on their links, you’ll find the person who created the record(s) says the parents were born in the “Usa”. You should notice the same problems again as we saw with Julie’s information, plus if you are a student of history, which you should be, you may notice other problems…

I could go on… but the point is already made.  You have two options:

  1. leave this record and find another; or,
  2. if you elect to use any of the data contained herein note it with scepticism in your Genealogy records and begin a search to confirm or deny the data.

The bottom line is: You never want to loose a good clue!

Unfortunately though “your data must be as good as it can possibly be…”