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March 11, 2007

Should Unsourced Data Be Put Online?

My friend Illya D'Addezio and I were recently discussing whether or not data that has no source has any place online on websites.

Back in 1996 when I started Olive Tree Genealogy, I didn't think about the importance of sources for data I found and brought online. So if I found a ships passenger list, I typed it up and put it online. I didn't worry about including the reference or citation for the original source.

In later years I became fussier and started documenting all data brought to Olive Tree and any of its sister sites. For example my New York Almshouse Records 1819-1840 on Olive Tree Genealogy include full details of

  • the source I used (Source: Alms House Admission Foreigners & Nativity Records (New York; City, NY) Item 5 LDS Film 1304647 Bond Registers 1819-1840. Original records in the Municipal Archives, New York, New York)
  • my introduction to the records
  • my notes about the records (that there are 2 pages but my transcribers and I only transcribed one)

The question Illya posed was "Does this mean that unsourced material has no place online?"

My response, after some serious deliberation, is that unsourced material, while not the pick of the litter so to speak, does deserve a place online. Yes, fully sourced material is always the optimum. But if one has the opportunity to obtain unsourced data, it can still be useful to genealogists, if for nothing more than a clue. A tiny clue from a page ripped from an old bible (unsourced, origin unknown) might be the clue that leads us to facts, to sources that will either verify or disprove the original clue.

So my vote is YES. I'd love to hear from others on this topic.

Do you think unsourced data has any value on websites?

Leave a comment on this post with YES or NO and your reasons why. I'll be reading your opinions with interest!



Kathi said...

Every document has a source even a page ripped from an old bible of unknown origin. As long as the web page clearly states: Source: page torn from an old Bible, author unknown, found in an antique shop in New Jersey", the document deserves a place online.

It is up to the person using the information to evaluate and assign a surety level to the source.

After all, that scrap of paper torn from the Bible may hold the key - a previously unknown name or location - to fiding the records with primary sources.

Gabe said...

I agree with you and Kathi. I think that to many people get hung up on whether there is a source or not to verify the authenticity of the information. Don't get me wrong, I think that citing the source is important and gives validity to the information provided but when you're looking for any bit of information that you can find, you don't usually stop to ask for the source of the information before you get the information. I've had times where information has been provided to me without a source but it ends up leading me to another bit of information that does.

It all comes down to trust and it's up to the individual if they want to trust the information that they receive.

. said...

If no unsourced information was put on the Internet, there wouldn't be very much!

My two cents is to take everything unsourced with a grain of salt...but still take it. Those bits and pieces may help you to find the original source or more information.

Now, with all the resources we have, I think that more and more original sources should be put online alongside the genealogy--scan in the paper torn from the Bible, upload the oral history from grandma, upload a picture of the original document, etc.