You are here

Review: Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist

Barry J Ewell’s latest book, Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist plagiarizes content from at least one well-known author in the genealogy community.

Barry J Ewell’s latest book, Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist plagiarizes content from at least one well-known author in the genealogy community.

I recently purchased the Amazon Kindle version of Barry J. Ewell’s newest book, Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist*, published 26 February 2016 by One Leaf Press. At 580 pages, Google Guide is a useful tool for all types of genealogists although much of the information can easily be located on the Internet, including entire articles by other authors.

*Note: I purchased the Amazon version on 10 March 2016 which as of 14 March 2016 has been removed from Amazon. The link has been updated to show the paperback version which is currently listed as “out of print.”

WARNING: Google Guide for Genealogy Contains Plagiarized Content

Ewell has a documented history of plagiarizing the works of other authors in the genealogy community and he maintains this tradition with Google Guide for Genealogy. Here is a thoroughly documented excerpt from Chapter 3 entitled “Verifying Online Sources”[1] which is taken from an article at About.com by Kimberly Powell entitled “Five Steps to Verifying Online Genealogy Sources.”[2]:

Ewell content Powell / About.com content
Step One: Search for the Source

Whether it’s a personal web page or a subscription genealogy database, all online data should include a list of sources. The key word here is should. You will find many resources that don’t. Once you find a record of your great, great grandfather online, however, the first step is to try and locate the source of that information.

1. Look for source citations and references – often noted as footnotes at the bottom of the page, or at the end (last page) of the publication.

2 Check for notes or comments.

3. Click on the link to “about this database” when searching a public database. (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and FamilySearch.com, for example, include sources for most of their databases.)

4. Email the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step One: Search for the Source

Whether its a personal Web page or a subscription genealogy database, all online data should include a list of sources. The key word here is should. You will find many resources that don’t. Once you find a record of your great, great grandfather online, however, the first step is to try and locate the source of that information.

Look for source citations and references – often noted as footnotes at the bottom of the page, or at the end (last page) of the publication

Check for notes or comments

Click on the link to “about this database” when searching a public database (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and FamilySearch.com, for example, include sources for most of their databases)
Email the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step Two: Track Down the Referenced Source

Unless the web site or database includes digital images of the actual source, the next step is to track down the cited source for yourself.

If the source of the information is a genealogy or history book, then you may find a library in the associated location that has a copy and is willing to provide photocopies for a small fee.

If the source is a microfilm record, then it’s a good bet that the Family History Library has it. To search the FHL’s online catalog, click on Library, then Family History Library Catalog. Use the place search for the town or county to bring up the library’s records for that locality. Listed records can then be borrowed and viewed through your local Family History Center.

If the source is an online database or web site, then go back to step #1 and see if you can track down a listed source for that site’s information.

Step Two: Track Down the Referenced Source

Unless the Web site or database includes digital images of the actual source, the next step is to track down the cited source for yourself.

If the source of the information is a genealogy or history book, then you may find a library in the associated location has a copy and is willing to provide photocopies for a small fee.

If the source is a microfilm record, then it’s a good bet that the Family History Library has it. To search the FHL’s online catalog, click on Library, then Family History Library Catalog. Use place search for the town or county to bring up the library’s records for that locality. Listed records can then be borrowed and viewed through your local Family History Center.

If the source is an online database or Web site, then go back to Step #1 and see if you can track down a listed source for that site’s information.

Step Three: Search for a Possible Source

When the database, web site or contributor doesn’t provide the source, it’s time to be a detective. Ask yourself what type of record might have supplied the information you have found. If it’s an exact date of birth, then the source is most likely a birth certificate or tombstone inscription. If it is an approximate year of birth, then it may have come from a census record or marriage record. Even without a reference, the online data may provide enough clues to a time period and/ or location to help you find the source yourself.

Step Three: Search for a Possible Source

When the database, Web site or contributor doesn’t provide the source, it’s time to turn sleuth. Ask yourself what type of record might have supplied the information you have found. If it’s an exact date of birth, thenEmail the contributor of the data, whether it be the compiler of a database or the author of a personal family tree, and politely ask for their source information. Many researchers are wary of publishing source citations online (afraid that others will “steal” the credit to their hard-earned research), but may be willing to share them with you privately.

Step Four: Evaluate the Source

While there are a growing number of internet databases which provide access to scanned images of original documents, the vast majority of genealogy information on the web comes from derivative sources – records which have been derived (copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized) from previously existing, original sources. Understanding the difference between these different types of sources will help you best assess how to verify the information that you find.

1. Does the data come from a primary source? These sources, created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (i.e. a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate).

2. A significant amount of time after an event occurred or by a person who was not present at the event (i.e. a birth date listed on a death certificate by the daughter of the deceased). Primary evidence usually carries more weight than secondary evidence.

3. How close to the original record is your information source? If it is a photocopy, digital copy or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation. Compiled records — including abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories — are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. Information from these types of derivative sources should be further traced back to the original source.

Step Four: Evaluate the Source & Information it Provides

While there are a growing number of Internet databases which provide access to scanned images of original documents, the vast majority of genealogy information on the Web comes from derivative sources – records which have been derived (copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized) from previously existing, original sources.

Understanding the difference between these different types of sources will help you best assess how to verify the information that you find.

How close to the original record is your information source? If it is a photocopy, digital copy or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation. Compiled records — including abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories — are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. Information from these types of derivative sources should be further traced back to the original source.

Does the data come from primary information? This information, created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (i.e. a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate), is generally more likely to be accurate. Secondary information, by contrast, is created a significant amount of time after an event occurred, or by a person who was not present at the event (i.e. a birth date listed on a death certificate by the daughter of the deceased). Primary information usually carries more weight than secondary information.

Step Five: Resolve Conflicts

You’ve found a birth date online, checked out the original source and everything looks good. Yet, the date conflicts with other sources you’ve found for your ancestor. Does this mean that the new data is unreliable? Not necessarily. It just means that you now need to re-evaluate each piece of evidence in terms of its likelihood to be accurate, the reason it was created in the first place, and its corroboration with other evidence.

1. How many steps is the data from the original source? A database on Ancestry.com that is derived from a published book, which itself was compiled from original records means that the database on Ancestry is two steps away from the original source. Each additional step increases the likelihood of errors.

2. When was the event recorded? Information recorded closer to the time of the event is more likely to be accurate.

3. Did any time elapse between the event and the creation of the record that relates its details? Family bible entries may have been made at one sitting, rather than at the time of the actual events. A tombstone may have been placed on the grave of an ancestor years after their death. A delayed birth record may have been issued dozens of years after the actual birth.

4. Does the document appear altered in any way? Different handwriting may mean that information was added after the fact. Digital photos may have been edited. It’s not a normal occurrence, but it does happen.

5. What do others say about the source? If it is a published book or database rather than an original record, use an internet search engine to see if anyone else has used or commented on that particular source. This is an especially good way to pinpoint sources which have a large number of errors or inconsistencies.

Step Five: Resolve Conflicts

You’ve found a birthdate online, checked out the original source and everything looks good.

Yet, the date conflicts with other sources you’ve found for your ancestor. Does this mean that the new data is unreliable? Not necessarily. It just means that you now need to reevaluate each piece of evidence in terms of its likelihood to be accurate, the reason it was created in the first place, and its corroboration with other evidence.

How many steps is the data from the original source? A database on Ancestry.com that is derived from a published book, which itself was compiled from original records means that the database on Ancestry is two steps away from the original source. Each additional step increases the likelihood of errors.

When was the event recorded? Information recorded closer to the time of the event is more likely to be accurate.

Did any time elapse between the event and the creation of the record that relates its details? Family bible entries may have been made at one sitting, rather than at the time of the actual events. A tombstone may have been placed on the grave of an ancestor years after her death. A delayed birth record may have been issued dozens of years after the actual birth.

Does the document appear altered in any way? Different handwriting may mean that information was added after the fact. Digital photos may have been edited. It’s not a normal occurence, but it does happen.

What do others say about the source? If it is a published book or database rather than an original record, use an Internet search engine to see if anyone else has used or commented on that particular source. This is an especially good way to pinpoint sources which have a large number of errors or inconsistencies.

One last tip – just because a source is published online by a reputable organization or corporation doesn’t mean that the source itself has been verified. The accuracy of any database is, at its best, only as good as the original data source. Conversely, just because a fact appears on a Geocities personal page or the LDS Ancestral file, doesn’t mean that it is more likely to be inaccurate. The validity of such information is largely dependent upon the care and skill of the researcher, and there are many excellent genealogists publishing their research online. One last tip! Just because a source is published online by a reputable organization or corporation doesn’t mean that the source itself has been vetted and verified. The accuracy of any database is, at its best, only as good as the original data source. Conversely, just because a fact appears on a personal page or the LDS Ancestral file, doesn’t mean that it is more likely to be inaccurate. The validity of such information is largely dependent upon the care and skill of the researcher, and there are many excellent genealogists publishing their research online.

I also did “spot checks” of other content in Google Guide for Genealogy, and while most of it appears to be from Ewell’s website as well as his previous publications, my methodology of using search engines to check for plagiarized content cannot possibly verify published books and other sources that have not been indexed by Internet search engines.

Conclusion

I wish the author would not only stop the practice of stealing content from other hard-working authors, but also come clean with the genealogy community and explain why he feels the need to plagiarize. Looking at the stellar 5-star only reviews (as of 11 March 2016), it appears as if Ewell’s followers either are unaware of his plagiarism or are willing to give him a “pass” on his behavior. As I stated in Plagiarism: A Venereal Disease in the Genealogy Community on 10 March 2014, “While there may never be a cure for plagiarism, there is education and the need to teach new genealogists what is and what isn’t acceptable when it comes to educational content.”

* * *

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

[1] Barry J. Ewell (2016-02-26). Google Guide for Genealogy: 1001 Ways to Search the Internet like a Genealogist (Kindle Locations 931-992). One Leaf Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Powell, Kimberly, Five Steps to Verifying Online Genealogy Sources, About.com (http://genealogy.about.com/od/basics/a/verifying.htm, accessed 10 March 2016)

Top