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My Experience with Geneaology and Ancestry.com – part 2

Dirty Data

Wow is geneaological data dirty.

I mean bad spellings, outright wrong names, wrong towns, ages, you name it.

In the end, all Family research is a probability, not a certainty. The probabilities can be at or near 100% (Like the photo of my Grandfather), but often you are reasonably sure you have the right person. Many times If you are honest with yourself, you can only be somewhat sure. And others you can only have information that is in the “lead” category.

I was looking for my father-in-law’s mothers entry into the USA through (word of mouth) Ellis Island.

So I went to the Ellis Island registry and began searching. It took many months but I finally found her.

Her actual name was “Ginsberg” but I found her as “Ginshpring”. Clearly an unaware, phonetic spelling of a name spoke by someone with an accent.

Cross referencing and probability
So lots of what I do is journalistic in nature. I look for independent references to validate questionable data.
In the case above, it included finding another dated reference around the same time, a ship log entry including the date of arrival, a “negative” check and in the end, a high probability match.

What’s a Negative check?
A negative check is a cross verification that the information you have found could ot be interpreted in a slightly different way invalidating your find. You want to make sure your information is unique and with low or no ambiguity. If you find what you think is your match, you should verify it by looking for similar information to make sure nothing muddies the water.
Imagine you are looking for a 25 year old Joe Smith. Your search turns up 3. You should look at the ages of each of them to try and refute the others. If you have 2 about the age of 25 (say +/- 5 years, then you should maintain a low probability of match until you can find additional information that confirms your information. If however, the other matches are decades away, you can be more sure you have the right person.

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