In 1792, the cornerstone of the White House was laid in a Masonic ceremony overseen by member George Washington. Supposedly, the cornerstone went missing the day after it was laid, and no one has seen it since. Many attempts have been made to find it, most recently when president Harry Truman totally renovated the building in the 1940’s. To date, no sign of the cornerstone has been found, and its whereabouts is one of America’s most enduring mysteries. A television show on the History Channel that aims to find missing historical artifacts even recently offered a cash reward to anyone who could help locate the stone for the show.
Hindsight is 20/20 in most things in life, and genealogy research is no exception. I’ve been doing genealogy research for 20 years and have reached the level of knowledge where I now consider myself a good genealogist (though, make no mistake, even good genealogists still have things to learn, and we discover new things in genealogy all the time). I’m proud of the research I’ve done and continue to do, for myself and others. Yet, there are so many things from my early work I could have done differently if I’d known better then…. things which would make my genealogy research even more rich, detailed, and rewarding today. My family tree would be more solid and more like the historical narrative I now aim for it to be.
If you have been doing genealogy for a while, you will no doubt have come across the work of other genealogists. There are user-submitted online family trees on many different well-known genealogy websites. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are the sites where you will find the most user-submitted trees, but they are everywhere in smaller numbers. Places like GenWeb, Fold3, American Ancestors, and most of the DNA testing websites have user-submitted trees, too. You may be tempted to take the information on these trees and use it as your own, if these trees are talking about your ancestors. However, take a moment before you copy that information. Here are some things you should consider before using someone else’s research.