Don't get me wrong, I like Ancestry.com and their hundreds of databases. I really do.
What I don't like is how easy it is to get the wrong information. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can have a full family tree. And half of it can be wrong.
Having a name wrong in your tree could be a brick wall. For years I was convinced my great-great-great grandfather's name was Franz, so when I found a François as the brother of another person, I overlooked it. It wasn't until a common descendant confirmed that my Franz was indeed François and showed me her research that I then went back and not only found him, but his father, grandfather and maternal family as well. A brick wall that was literally 10 years old was finally overcome because I thought to think out of the box.
Another more recent example is the mother of my Abinah Wood, Reumah (or Ruehama, if you follow the spelling on her will - Personally I think she went by both). Her surname, as far as we can tell, is unknown. Every document I have seen with her name lists her as Reumah Wood, as every document was issued after her marriage to Jonathan Wood. The family book from 1903 speculated that Reumah was probably a wealthy French woman from New Orleans, Louisiana, and that is taken as near fact in my research circle. Imagine my surprise when I discovered on Ancestry.com that someone in the Public Member Trees had given her the last name of Wealth. Even more to my chagrin were the number of other people who copied that information onto their own tree. A wrong name got copied and taken as fact several times over.
For a perfectionist such as myself, having incorrect names is bothersome. That's why I truly enjoy it when someone corrects my data, and then shows me why they are correcting it.
It's a copy and paste job
Public member trees from Ancestry.com, Pedigree Resource File and Ancestral File from FamilySearch, and the WorldConnect Project on Rootsweb.com, among others, are all prone to grave mistakes from this kind of wrong data.
Don't misunderstand me, these sources are awesome resources, but they should be researched with a grain of caution, for they are not always going to be correct. Anyone can find names and stick them together in research. A genealogist who wants to be correct will actually back up said names with sources and research. It is easy to plug names into a tree, what's hard is making sure the info you have is correct.
Too many times someone who is new to genealogy will take a tree and ecstatically plug it into their own without looking over the research. I have been guilty of that myself. However, when one then goes back over sources, it is harder to find the info one needs because the tree could be changed or deleted. It is frustrating to be asked by another researcher about info and have no idea where it came from.
Okay, so what do I do?
So how does one make sure info is correct? By checking sources. I will rarely consult a tree in one of the aforementioned databases if it doesn't have sources. I will also check the sources that are listed if it is possible to get a better look at what and where and when. If I have to add the name of someone that is not documented by other sources (because sometimes, it can and does happen), I will document the source as coming from one of those databases AND I will try my best to make sure I also have the name of the submitter who submitted the data in the first place. That way, if I find new information that either corrects or supports the data in my tree, I know who I can contact to ask if they have the info as well. Also, I try to record what date I found info whenever possible, so that if the data does disappear, I still have some way of knowing who gave it to me and when.
Of course, even my own tree is not perfect. Too many times in my early days I was one who just copied stuff willy-nilly, and now I am regretting making that mistake. It may seem like a daunting task to sift over the info, but it is well worth it in the end.
One of my favorite things to do is search more then one database, on more then one site. I find that if I stick to one site, such as Ancestry.com, I miss the great databases some of the other sites have to offer. I also miss getting a complete picture of who my ancestors and family members were and what they did. While Ancestry has a vast amount of holdings, some other sites have great stuff as well. A good jumping off point for searching some of these other databases is Cyndi's List, which has an extensive array of links designed to help everyone from the beginning genealogist to the most professional.
With odd names, such as my favorite of Waldspurger, I sometimes will just Google the name, or search the Google News Archive Search, which has old newspapers from around the world (This link is great for finding death notices too, particularly in the Pittsburgh area and for just having fun reading old time newspapers.) I have found everything from old wedding announcements to my uncle's breaststroke record from the 70s by searching through Google.
There's also the old fashioned look-ups. Yes, the world is becoming more and more digitized, but not always are the digital records correct. Keep in mind some of those records on Ancestry and the like are transcribed by someone, and those transcriptions have a margin for human error. Not to mention there are literally MILLIONS of records that aren't in digital format as of yet. Sometimes it takes ordering them directly from the source in the form of old-fashioned photocopies or visiting the site and taking digital photographs to get information that is correct and pure. If you are looking for information from Allegheny, Montgomery or Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania, I can get you contact information for places that can help! Keep in mind, these look-ups can range from free (if you can find a person willing to do it for you) to 50 dollars an hour or even more. But the amount of info you can glean from the original records can be worth the money spent.
A little variety is great for researching! Don't limit your sources!