Light colored eyes, weak from age and illness, stared out from between a headful of thick, wavy hair and a chinful of white whiskers. The photograph was among a list of search returns for John P. Minor on a major genealogical website. The problem? This is NOT John P. Minor. The PROBLEM? Two different ancestry.com users had conducted a google search, found their way to an old Shoots, Roots, And Leaves blog post in which yours truly had misidentified the whiskered gent as my patriarch, John P. Minor. Without contacting me, they lifted the photo and uploaded it to Ancestry, perpetuating inaccurate family history.
Two things have gone awry here.
1.) My original attempt to identify an old, unlabeled photograph found in an album that belonged to my mother. I had ascertained a probable chain of provenance, and reached the conclusion that the photographs were collected by Mary Jane Minor in the late 1800s. With limited technical knowledge of dating photographs and limited contact with other relatives, I made a stab at identifying the guy primarily based on his age and the placement of the photograph in the first page. I certainly did not have enough sources or experience to make a solid claim–as I did–that the whiskered man was John P. Minor. I have since acquired more skills, and conferred with relatives, to know with certainty that this is NOT J. P. Minor, and I have written two subsequent blog posts about this research here and here.
2) Readers did not collaborate before sharing. I give my contact information for a reason–to collaborate. I also have the “comments section” activated for a reason–to collaborate. Had these tree climbers been willing to use either method I could have shared the newly discovered photographs, and collaborated on a possible identification of Mr. Chin Whiskers. Instead, the readers perpetuated my error.
What’s a Geneablogger to do?
Well, I sure as heck will not stop blogging and sharing. The collaborations and contacts have proven to be insightful, stimulating, and fun. But I have established a few guidelines for error catching and correcting!!
1.) If the error is perpetuated on Ancestry.com: Leave a note in the photograph’s or document’s comment section attributing the original source, your blog, and stating the error that is perpetuated. THEN contact the user directly with the Ancestry.com in-house mail, with the same message.
2.) Review the past post. Delete the inaccurate information. If the remaining text is nonsensical, delete the whole darn post. If a wonderful story still deserves to be told, note that the post has been updated to reflect new information. Don’t forget to update your tags and photo captions!!
3.) Up your game. If a post’s story is a mere “perhaps”, generate reader engagement. Ask questions instead of making statements. Write a piece of fiction, based on a piece of intriguing data, and ask readers if they think that interpretation to be likely given the source. In short…if you are not confident that the family story is probably or certainly true, then flag the post as a work in progress.
I am a writer, a blogger, a family historian, a researcher, and collaborator. I know by putting my work out here that it will sometimes be taken, reused with and without attribution to me. That is the risk I take, gladly, willingly, for ultimately every reader is a potential friend and collaborator.
I am curious to know how other geneabloggers have handled this situation. I look forward to reading your comments!!