If you have conducted research for a certain amount of time, you, no doubt, have stumbled upon an online tree that is less than perfectly accurate. At first glance, you may notice that a major detail about your ancestor is incorrect. You start to feel anger and frustration, and your first reaction is to go on the attack. Wait. Stop, and take a deep breath. Consider other options below that will help you correct information and keep a proper perspective.
First, call to mind the beginning stages of your own research. Did you ever discover a mistake that you later found and corrected? How did you feel? Would you say that you were intentionally being careless, or were your motives to deceive someone? Perhaps as you discovered future details or learned more about how to become more accurate in your researching and documenting, you gained more insight about your ancestor. With this perspective about your own process of learning to do family history, you can come to a better conclusion as to how this new found researcher could have fallen into making similar mistakes.
Everyone researching on their own without collaborating with other people either researching the same family or in the same location has the potential to have errors in their findings. As online technology makes it possible for these researchers to discover and connect with one another, they will see discrepancies in their independent research. The solution should not involve shining a beam to expose the other persons perceived errors, but both researchers should begin a healthy non-threatening objective discussion about conclusions and documents used to reach those conclusions.
FamilySearch.org has a great feature on each individual record that provides a space for researchers to begin these healthy discussions. See Participating in Discussions on Family Tree. Yes, you put forth lots of effort to gather the research that you have, but putting the feelings of possessiveness about your own research aside, you are documenting part of the human family.
Those extended family that you find researching are descendants of your ancestor too. Honor that connection, and be graceful in sharing how the documents prove one fact or another. If your research is incomplete and you have no records to document data that you have recorded, do not defend you work in this case. Accept constructive feedback, and vow to do better.
Genealogy can only become more rewarding and accurate with your diligence in having healthy collaborations with other people who have more information on collateral lines, more documentation, and more recorded memories to share with you. It is conceivable in many cases how the descendant who is more closely related to the ancestor in question may have more accurate details. Work to keep from having riffs with these extended family members.
Here are some discussion openers that are not offensive:
“Hello, I am so excited to find another person who descends from ________. It is so hard to find records. How did you go about finding his mother’s name?”
“I have been researching __________ for a long time. Can you share how you were able to find that will?
If you discover the researcher has a gross error:
Hi, I am so happy to connect with someone researching _________________. It is so hard to find records. I noticed that you have a different birth date. I found his birth record here: ____________. I hope this is of some help to you. Please let me know if there is another record that you are having trouble finding for _____________. I would be glad to share.”
If you come to the point where it is difficult to resolve the issue, gracefully bow out. Do not dispute or offend. Make sure that your family tree has the correct documentation. The next person that comes along will discover it, and they will be grateful for your efforts.