Secrets of a Cyber Sleuth: The Online Acid Test

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Can you trust your favorite genealogy Web site? Put it to our test.

Does the site reference original documents? What are its sources? A database compiled from original documents may be more reliable than one compiled from another database or a book. But even those compiled from original records can have transcription problems. It’s best to check the original document yourself.

Does the site link to digital images of original documents, so you can view them?

When you look at the original document, do you agree with the transcriber’s version? Or do you find a lot of transcription errors?

Who created the database or site? Was it a professional genealogist or another conscientious family historian? If so, the database may be quite reliable. Was it a library or archive that had some quality control over the data being entered? Or is it a commercial site that may have hired inexperienced personnel for data entry, or a volunteer site that may not have much quality control? (This isn’t to say that all commercial and volunteer sites are unreliable — but it’s a factor to consider.)

Have genealogy publications reviewed the site? What did the reviewers note were the strengths and weaknesses of the information?

 From the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine