What happened to civility and cooperation in genealogy research?

The vast majority of my interactions with regard to my own genealogical research and that of fellow genealogists has been friendly, cooperative and extremely helpful. Infrequently, however, I have been in a position to wonder what is happening to the culture of civility and cooperation in genealogy research?

argument

Debate and controversy are good. Rudeness and harassment are not.

Although there have been small incidents that could be termed problematic, there were two situations which could be characterized as ongoing harassment.

I have been actively researching 4-8 hours per day for almost twenty years and have amassed a database of about 122,000 individuals.

Of these, about 20% are without sources and notes, and could be considered speculative at best. Now here it is important to note that I have thousands of sources and images that are not yet attached to individuals. This is because I choose to make good use of my Ancestry.com subscription dollar and save the sources I find to an ‘unattached’ folder on my computer, while entering the basic identifying information into my database.

When my subscription expires, I then take several months to attach the sources found to the individuals in the database. The result is that a number of the seemingly ‘unsourced’ individuals do have sources that have simply not been entered as yet.

I have been criticized for unsourced individuals being included in my database, but I do explain (and have a written policy on the site explaining) that I include unsourced information as the sources may simply have not been entered, or they are used as ‘clues’ to further research. Although there have been instances where the information – or at least part of it – was erroneous, the vast majority of these proved to be valid. All information in my database should be evaluated solely on the quality of the sources. If there are no sources, one can assume it is speculative and choose to not use it.

However, it is important to note that my online database has not been updated in months and I don’t intend to update it in future. This is because of issues with the software using identifying numbers which change with each and every update, causing numerous broken links and seriously affecting performance of the site. If anyone knows of a genealogy website publishing system that allows for access to sources, images, etc. and uses the name and not ID numbers, please do let me know.

If you find a line you’re researching in my database online, feel free to contact me to inquire if I have any unentered sources, images or other information. I will gladly foward them and/or a gedcom of that particular branch.

I do, however, intend to transcribe sources on Empty Nest Genealogy, and these will include sources that are not actually entered into the online database, thereby making them available anyway. This will be a slow process, but I am working on it.

Now, back to these incidents.

Incident #1

What's happening to civility and cooperation in genealogy research?

Chart illustrating my family’s connection to the Hubbell / Keller lineage. (Click on the image to see it in full size.)

The first of these occurred about a year ago when a woman named ‘Barbara’ emailed me about my efforts researching the family of James Harmond Reynolds, which includes extensive Hubbell and Keller lines. To illustrate our connection, the mother of my husband’s father and older brother remarried after a divorce to Harmond James Reynolds, whose mother was Elizabeth Keller (see chart).

She berated me for using any Hubbell data as, according to her, we are not connected to the Hubbell lineage. Following is the copied and pasted email string to illustrate.

…I am contacting you, as you appear to be the link for the Blythe Family Tree on “Our Famiy History”  and you have the data of “The Descendants of Nehemiah Hubble and Lucretia Welton” included.  As I am the keeper of this information and this work is copyright protected, I am curious as to why you have included it.  There are only 12 “BLYTH” names in the book so if this means you are connected to one of them I would be interested in having your information.

What is very stressful, is that for whatever reason, be it a computer glitch or input, you have a number of inaccurate pieces of data and these inaccurate bits are not reflected in the book.

My request is simply that you remove the links to “The Descendants of Nehemiah Hubble and Lucretia Welton” or at least only show your direct relationship back to it.  As an organization we have worked very hard, for many years, getting the family data as correct as possible and again, very distressing to see it used in this way with so much incorrect data portrayed as though it comes from us…

Barbara

…I am sorry you feel this way. My father-in-law, Marshall Blythe is the step-son to James Reynolds and half-brother to William and Helen Reynolds, who are related to the Kellers and Hubbles. You can see the connection in the database.

Just because I have cited your publication does not mean it was used as the source for all of the data and sometimes where the data of more than one source conflicts, I have to choose what appears to be the most accurate data. You will see that there are several sources cited for each individual and/or fact – and not just yours. Are you positive the information you have is actually the correct information? Also, citing a publication as a source is not an infringement of copyright.

I would, however, like to know what information is incorrect and I will work to correct it. Unfortunately, in the exchange of genealogy information, mistakes do happen and I apologize for any that may exist in this data.

Without specific information about errors you have found, I will have to rework the data to try and find the errors you speak of. This could take a quite a while…

Christine

I can appreciate you entering the lineage back from your father-in-law relating to the Keller’s and Hubble’s but since you aren’t doing the actual research for the entire HUBBLE descendants of Rawdon – and I am – and I was the person who did the work for the publication of The Descendants of Nehemiah Hubble & Lucretia Welton AND published a corrections booklet to the book in 2005 AND have maintained updating the Corrections – yes, I suspect I am more certain of the facts of the family than you.No, you are correct that citing a publication as a source is not an infringement of copyright, however, we hobby genealogists also need to encourage a level of ethics in our use of material produced by others. I stand by the fact that your Marshall (Reynolds) Blythe is not blood related to the whole of the HUBBELL/HUBBLE/HUBBEL/HUBEL/HUBLE clan going back to Rock, England and therefore you should allow that research to be posted by those that do the research for that line.  That research is being done by the U.S. Hubbell Family Association and they also are always actively updating their information and that said, even I do not try to duplicate their work beyond entering the name only of the direct line back to Richard HUBBALL…

Barbara

I do understand Barbara’s concern over any errors in another researcher’s data, but I object completely to the idea that because one individual started to research a line first, they own that lineage.

I finally stopped responding and was relieved she had ceased emailing me, thinking the whole thing was over. Then I read a post on Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter regarding ‘discouragement of newbie genealogy researchers’ and commented about my own position on including unsourced information. Unfortunately, this newsletter site has been redesigned and no longer goes back that far in its archives, so I can’t quote from it directly.

The same day, there was a reply from Barbara repeating her opinion about ownership and rights to genealogy research, and making a direct slam to me without naming me (and I paraphrase): “a database of 115,000 individuals does not a genealogist make.” Now, I know this was the same woman because she had previously referred to my database of 115,000 being impossible to accumulate.

Incident #2

Gravestone of Evan Dhu Shelby

Tombstone of Evan Dhu Shelby.

The second incident occurred much more recently in response to a post on this site regarding Evan Isaac Shelby, in which much was recounted about his ancestor Evan (Dhu) Shelby, the pioneering immigrant from Wales to Pennsylvania. There has been a lot of controversy over whether the nickname ‘Dhu’ was ever used as it is only recorded as being associated with this individual in anecdotal evidence of the period. However, a later ancestor was also known as Evan Dhu Shelby, as is clearly stated on his tombstone (see right).

A gentleman commented on the post,

THERE IS NO EVAN DHU SHELBY, only Evan Shelby

Back around 1903 someone made application to the DAR and picked up the ‘dhu’ and used it in their application(s).

The use of Dhu first appeared in an early book by Armstrong in which he provides no basis for the use. I suspect he picked it up by mistake from a poem by Alexander McLachlan “In memory of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, 1629 -1719″. This is a poem that pays tribute to a Scotsman who went by “Evan Dhu” http://www.scotland.com/forums/poets-corner/22981-death-evan-dhu.html

Later Janet Schonert wrote a book “Chasin Shelbys” and continued using “dhu” as a middle name in error.

ALL of the researchers who have made the pilgrimage to St. Carron’s church in Wales and have looked at the ACTUAL baptismal records of Evan Shelby(see below) have confirmed that Evan had NO middle name, further, other than the DAR, which has no basis for the use of dhu, Alexander’s mistake, and Schonert who has perpetuated it, no other researcher or author has found any evidence to support its’ use.

The two premier Shelby authorities, Cass Knight Shelby, and Johnnie Mulinax Johnson, along with Shelby document historian Judith Trolinger have debunked the use of Dhu.

Over the years I have tried to educate as many Shelby researchers with the facts, but once the cow is out of the barn….

For you serious Shelby researchers here’s a partial list of Shelby research sources: (and yes, I’ve included those that use “dhu” ….sigh)

_______

1. Notable Southern Families, Armstrong, Zella, 1918, 273pgs. http://archive.org/details/notablesouthern00frengoog

2. A Report on the First Three Generations of the Shelby Family in the United States of America – by Shelby, Cass K.”, 1927, 26pgs. http://www.ancestralbooks.com/Shelby.html

3. Sketches of the Shelby, McDowell, Deaderick, Anderson families, Moon, Anna Mary, 1933, 150pgs. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89066319427;view=1u

4. The Shelby family: ancestry and descendants of John Shelby and his son David Shelby ; pioneers of Tennessee, Galloway, Howard S. 1964, 352pgs

5. Chasin’ Shelby’s [sic] : a basic outline of the descendants of Jonathon, Jacob, Rees Shelby, Schonert, Janet D, 1971, 109pgs

6. Our ancestors and kinsmen: the Shelbys, Polks, McLartys, Perkersons, Tarpleys, and Camps, Camp Max W. , 1976, 128pgs

7. Our Shelbys, Johnson, Johnnie Mullinax, 1991, 209pgs

8. Rees and Mary Shelby: ancestors & descendants, Johnson, Johnnie Mullinax, 1994, 510pgs. (This book is THE Gold Standard, most exhaustive and best researched for Phillip Selby/Shelby’s line)

Now, I don’t have any issue with the above comments as they are succinct, illustrating his reasons for believing the name Dhu is inaccurate, but I responded with my reasons for choosing to leave the nickname Dhu in the database while explaining the controversy surrounding the name in the notes.

My response included:

Anything entered in my database that is not supported by a source is described as such. Where ‘family stories’ are unsubstantiated, they are identified as such. I clearly identify all my sources and unfortunately, if I have a document source, it takes precedence over word of mouth evidence that is anything but first party…

Only to receive a response back from him:

“I would love to see any documentary source that contradicts the information I’ve already sourced. The information I have that is not sourced and disagrees with the information you’ve provided will be changed.”

How can I prove a negative ?

There IS no document that supports/proves that Evan had “Dhu” as a middle name.

On the other hand, Evan’s ACTUAL baptismal/christening documents at St. Caron’s church, transcribed in Judy Trolinger’s notes that I provided are indeed PROOF of his real name. (See posst by Jef SHELBY at Genforum and Ancestry as he too has inspected the ACTUAL documents from the 1700′s).

Still believing that the absense of a name on a birth certificate is not definitive proof that it was not used, I responded again:

I have only ever referred to ‘Dhu’ in brackets or quotes in my database as a nickname, which he most likely would have come by at a later age. I do use this as it is mentioned in documentary sources I have found, which include Sons of the American Revolution applications and biographical documents, among others.

I then believed this debate to be concluded until I came upon this thread of comments to a post I made on the rootsweb.com site, in which I directed readers to the data, images and sources I had made available.

The first comment was from a different person and he states:

…”Evan Shelby DID NOT HAVE A MIDDLE NAME OF DHU!. A very early researcher threw that one in- It simply means ‘black’ in Galic (sic)”…

The gentleman who had responded to the post on my genealogy blog then responded:

…I have tried repeatedly to help this researcher/historian repeal her use of “dhu”…. …I have posted what I believe to be exhaustive and logical support as to why Evan did not have Dhu as a middle name at http://www.emptynestancestry.com/evan-dhu-isaac-shelby-of-tr… for those reading this post…

The response to him from the first commenter was:

“Dhu” (?) =s DUH!!!

Then there was a response back to him:

Really ? I thought its’ use was DHUmb

At this point, I was seeing ‘red’ and posted the following response:

I’m so disappointed in how rude some (very few mind you) researchers are. This gentleman has refused to accept the fact that I have a difference of opinion on this matter.

I have every right to disagree with Judy Trolinger, as much as her research has been helpful to me and numerous others (and with him) because there is at least one written account of the use the name ‘Dhu’ and since it’s documented as having been used by a later Evan Shelby (I have an image of it on a tombstone), it’s not inconceivable that it was used with this earlier Evan and carried on through the family. This would be considered a ‘nickname’ and would not be documented on a birth record, which is this researcher’s rationale for my being wrong. I may very well be wrong, but since there is some anectodal evidence of its use, I prefer to keep it until proven otherwise. If he would bother to check further, he would find the image of the tombstone documenting the nickname ‘Dhu’ in my database.

There is nothing ‘DHU’mb about my conclusions. As long as I make it clear why I make them in my research, which I do on the main website and his entry in the database site at http://blythegenealogy.com/getperson.php?personID=I2634&….

Now, I do apologize that this post has been so long-winded, but I wanted to depict accurately what happened in both these incidents.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no room in genealogy for kingdomship, lack of civility, and harassment as a result of differing points of view.

I am so thankful that the vast majority of genealogy researchers I’ve dealt with have been pleasant, helpful and led to some relationships with other researchers through my blog and database site.

Please do let me know if you find any erroneous information in my database, but please do include a source or a link to a source as support for me to change my information. I appreciate any help I can get.

photo credit: brainpop_uk via photopin cc

Leave a Reply