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Friday, October 14, 2011

Rumors, half-truths, folklore and lies

I recently had an annual checkup with my doctor and as I was leaving he started to tell me about some of the folklore about what things to eat and not to eat. I won't go into the details but apparently there were some common misconceptions about the dangers of eating some foods when you had certain medical conditions. According to the doctor, it was all unsubstantiated folklore and there was no proven danger from eating the foods. I guess I wouldn't have taken notice if another doctor hadn't told me the exact opposite and repeated the folklore to me only a week earlier. Which one had the "correct" information?

Almost the same day, I was in a meeting at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and one of the participants passed along the current rumor about New FamilySearch. As recently as September, 2011 there is a reference in the FamilySearch.org Help Center to a "new FamilySearch.994 beta. " If there is a beta test going on of a new version of New.FamilySearch.org then the participants are under a non-disclosure agreement because there is nothing else out there on the Internet. Is there a Beta test? Logic tells me that there probably is some kind of development going on and that there may likely be a Beta test.

The issue of information that gets passed around also reminded me of the list of birth dates and places for my Great-grandfather in New.FamilySearch.org. I was showing someone the list, which has about 20 incorrect birth places and only one correct birth place. The person immediately assumed, because the real correct information was in the small minority, that it was wrong and all the other people listed with the wrong information were right. It must be human nature to side with the majority.

I often tell people and have written many times that copying user submitted data from an online family tree is not research and it is almost guaranteed to be inaccurate, unless, and this this a big exception, you personally know that the information is correct. Very consistently, when someone approaches me with a research problem that they or "the family" have been researching for years, there is some basic invalid assumption at the base of the problem.

In the case of the information given by the first doctor, it took me two seconds, literally, on the Internet to find substantiation for the second doctor's opinion. The first doctor was simply repeating a "popular, but unproven" dietary caution. How do I know the first doctor was wrong and not the second? Why do I trust the research I did on the Internet? Part of the answer lies with my own personal experience. My own experience shows that the first doctor was not aware of the entire story.

Now what if I look at a list of options in various online family trees? How do I know if any of them is correct? My first quick answer is personal experience and good sense, the second quick answer is a quick Internet search. Here is a list of some of the places given for my Great-grandfather's birth:

11 June 1852 San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California
11 June 1852 San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California (more than 20 sources)
11 July 1852 of Utah
1856 Joseph City, Apache, Arizona
about 1858 Joseph City, Arizona, USA
1858 Toqerville, Wash. UT
1858 St. Joseph, Navajo, Arizona
about 1859 Lakeside, Arizona

How many of these can we rule out as false without a lot of effort? What is the one fact you might want to know to answer this question? Here is the question, "When was Arizona settled by the Mormon pioneers?" Would it help you to know that the first settlements in Arizona by Mormon pioneers took place in 1875 and 1876?

Without going on to a long discussion of the history and the other dates and places, it is enough to point out that there is a lot of misinformation out there in the genealogy community and that good sense and little bit of research can get rid of a lot of it. I do thank my second doctor for clearing up the food issue and at least making me aware that the first advice was folklore and not fact.


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