Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wikipedia Misled by an Online Ahnentafel

About a year ago, I learned how to correct errors on Wikipedia. There is a protocol and etiquette so that a collaborative editing process goes smoothly. Fortunately, most of the other editors on that page were patient with my learning curve. Once I had been guided into the correct etiquette, the change was made peacefully.

Wikipedia also has policies or protocols about the sources of information for statements made in the articles. Those sources have to be published and available. The sources that led me to realize there was an error were not readily available. Some were on microfilm, some were in manuscripts, and the analysis was in my head. I had to search for a new way of explaining the error using online sources before I could get it corrected.

The other factor that made it hard to correct the error was that the error itself was already cited to an online "published" source. This ahnentafel had achieved credibility with the editors of the page. During the process, one editor told me that the online tree had source citations itself and was created by reputable genealogists. All of this is true, but we can learn a lot by looking more closely at this tree and its sources. When I analyzed it, I found at least five errors in the colonial generations without really trying to find errors. I shudder to think how many I could find if I actually researched it. I did try emailing the web site authors but no one responded. I later learned that one of them was terminally ill at that time and would have been unable to respond.

I'm going to take a few days and discuss the ahnentafel, the sources, and the recognizable errors in more detail as a learning exercise. The Wikipedia entry was for Gov. Thomas Welles of Connecticut. The error was in listing Sarah Palin as a descendant of the governor. The ahnentafel that was used by Wikipedia to support this attribution was by Robert Battle who acknowledged contributions from Tom Brown, William Reitwiesner, Gary Boyd Roberts, and Michael Hurdle. The ahnentafel can now (2011) be found at:

Feel free to analyze this one yourself. My next step will be to look at the sources and then to discuss just how much of that ahnentafel really is source-cited. Is every statement of fact cited to a source? Hah!@!


  1. Good start, Barbara! Looking forward to more!

  2. Congrats on your first post! I'm sure you'll find lots of great stuff to write about. Keep it up!

  3. Bravo! Glad to see you; I think you will find this medium convenient and satisfying to work with.
    - Brenda

  4. Very interesting! Professionals can make mistakes too. Sometimes people don't seem to acknowledge that.

  5. Oooh! I can't wait for part two.... I'm glad you caught this one!

  6. This is very interesting. I hope to learn more about anylizing sources and determining their reliability.

  7. I know a fair bit about how those gentlemen work. They find a famous person, someone like Sarah Palin, who appears on the scene and they "work out their ancestry" very quickly. They rely on primary sources for the latest generations, but often times rely on printed sources (secondary sources) for earlier generations. These works are quick and dirty to see if one person is related to another. In this particular example, it was clearly to see how the presidential candidates were interrelated if at all. Bill Reitwiesner died last November of colon cancer. Gary Boyd Roberts is still alive.

    I have used Mr. Battle, Mr. Roberts, and co. as a jumping off point, but never as a source that is finished.

    I think your case against Wikipedia is stronger than your case against this particular ahnentafel.

  8. I should add that Gary Boyd Roberts is the leading scholar of U.S. Presidential ancestry and his books (none of his work is online) are scholarly and thoroughly well-cited.