Do you feel responsible for errors in others’ family trees?

This door symbolizes the research done on the immigrant Johann Jacob RUPP of Oberhoffen-lès-Wissembourg, Northern Alsace, France. The first door is open showing a passageway leading to another door that is closed.

The First Door Opens

Theron A. Rupe found records in the 1990s for RUPP individuals in the Family History Library’s International Film #775041:

Steinseltzrecords Parish registers, in German, of baptisms, marriages, and deaths for Steinselz, Elsaß-Lothringen, Germany; now Steinseltz, Bas-Rhin, France, including Oberhoffen-lès-Wissembourg were filmed in the Strasbourg Archives. Note: As of 20 July 2010 these records are browsable online at the Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin.

Theron’s research opened the first door. We corresponded by postal mail as he did not have internet access and a few emails were passed along by his son-in-law. In 2001 he shared photocopies with me of the records he found showing Johann Jacob RUPP b. 1723 was the son of Johann Jacob RUPP Jr. This, in turn, led him to Johann Jacob RUPP Sr. who he found had remarried and was fathering children at the same time as Johann Jacob RUPP Jr.

At the time I was more concerned with proving my grandmother’s ROOP line back to RUPE and the RUPP immigrant. Theron was “satisfied with information we have on family in America” and would “appreciate only information relating to Oberhoffen.”

I visited Steinseltz and Oberhoffen-lès-Wissembourg on a day trip in December 2001 but did not have the time to visit and/or do research at the archives in Strasbourg. This put an end to our collaborating as I did not have access to the records needed to satisfy his interest in the family of Oberhoffen-lès-Wissembourg.

A Second Door Opens

Fast forward a dozen years, in June 2013 I learned the church records were online in the Bas-Rhin Archives. I learned later they had been online for several years as noted above. I’d canceled my subscription the previous month and had plenty of time to delve into the church records.

I searched the baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths beginning in 1685, the earliest records available, until 1752 the year my 6th great-grandfather Johann Jacob RUPP (b. 8 March 1723) came to America. I found about 130 church records for RUPP related individuals in Oberhoffen-lès-Wissembourg and Steinseltz. This included any record with a RUPP mentioned, for example, as a godparent on a baptismal record. Here a name, there a name, and before you know it you are connecting the dots and can see the whole picture.

What I found completely changed the RUPP family tree. I attempted contacting Theron with the new information however he is no longer doing genealogy. Without a subscription to Ancestry®, I wasn’t able to contact the people who had trees with the wrong information which I felt responsible for.

Why did I feel responsible?

In 2001 I entered the information found by Theron into my family tree. At the time, with the few photocopies of the old church records he shared with me, it looked good [to the new to US genealogy researcher] as the information was also included in Louise Roop Anderson Akers’ book The Family Rub, Rup, Rupe, Roop, Roope  (2001 Printed by Jamont Communications, 339 Luck Ave., Roanoke, VA 24016). Although many other genealogists researching the family also bought the book I was one of the first to share the information online.

On 6 December 2002, I uploaded my GEDCOM file to RootsWeb’s WorldConnect Project for the first time and it included the Roop information. A few years later I discovered my file had been included in the Ancestry Family Tree (later becoming a part of the OneWorldTree). Over the years dozens of owners of family trees on have merged the incorrect information into their trees.

Yesterday I was looking at some of the trees and was reminded of why I do not want my family tree on I wish a user’s license was the prerequisite for using the family tree feature as well as reviewing and accepting hints. I can understand how people new to genealogy will make mistakes but there is no need to accept all hints without question.

What has changed in the RUPP family tree?

After sleeping on it, I’ve decided against contacting owners of trees with the incorrect information. My 1752 immigrant was not the only RUPP to come to America. Others came before and after him which only adds to the confusion seen in the trees found online.

To begin I plan to write about my 5th great-grandfather Heinrich Thomas “Henry” Rupe Sr. 1765-1845. There are several aspects of his life I would like to discuss in separate posts. They may not be done in this particular order but will include the migration from Maryland to Virginia, his life in Virginia, his children, and his siblings.

A post on how the connection was made between the immigrant and the ship he came over on will hopefully clear up the “it cannot be” comment I found on one of the “stories” attached to several trees on ancestry.

Once the ship has sailed I’ll write about the three RUPP generations found in the French archives who changed the family tree. Hopefully, by writing their stories I will no longer feel responsible for mistakes seen in other people’s family trees.

© 2016, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

29 thoughts on “Do you feel responsible for errors in others’ family trees?”

  1. Hi Cathy, I don’t feel responsible at all. With my John Whitmer tree experiment last year, I contacted about 300 public tree owners and shared the link to my fully documented work. A year later, about 9 of those trees have been corrected. I did my best and washed my hands of it. We can only be responsible for our own work and any serious genealogist knows that every tree is a work in progress. Corrections are made when new documents are found. Those who copy and paste and/or merge data aren’t researchers and probably don’t even care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Linda, I remember your writing about that. This has been at the back of my mind since I found the records in 2013 but at the time I didn’t have a platform to get the message out. I actually have a statement on my gedcom about it being a work in progress and warn about copy/paste. Thank you!


  2. Yes, I feel your pain. Every time I see trees with a name for the father of my 4X great-grandmother, I cringe because the name given was for a man born AFTER she was. Errors like that make me crazy. I have sent emails to people with wrong info along with my evidence, but not a one has changed the information, said Thank-you, or even kiss my foot. I like seeing public trees for potential clues that I can verify myself, but I totally understand why people keep them private.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can relate also. And it’s one reason I now keep my Ancestry tree private. I do not want anyone to be misled by mistakes on my tree, and I know how careless many people are when it comes to those trees. In fact, when I was a newbie, I assumed that any tree on Ancestry had to have been vetted in some way! Then I found the first major mistake in another person’s tree—a mistake I had copied myself. I tried to contact everyone who had that same mistake—but no one responded. So now I keep my tree private, although always willing to share with those who ask, and I never use someone else’s tree unless it is well-sourced AND I can locate the same sources.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Interesting. I recently found a tiny error in my tree, but thankfully, it was able to be corrected before others could latch on to it… I’m sure I have others (I hope not, though) that I will find as I delve into each person for an updated more thorough look.

    I did find a couple of people who had my gg’s listed in their tree- complete with their children and so forth, but had them living somewhere I’ve never even heard of. I tried reaching out to them, to no avail. It was frustrating and irritating at the same time… I think you made the right call not to teach out to everyone. Less of a headache for you. And I know it’s easy to feel guilty, but don’t. Those people should only be using your tree as a jumping off point- they should still be doing their own research. PS what part of Virginia are your peoples in?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Cathy I agree with everything you and everyone has said here. I have my family tree on which I hate. One I have private the other not, but thinking of it. I certainly have gone back and seen where I have made some mistakes, however I am appalled at the people who obviously copy (e.g. one of my rellies from East End London in the 1850s was Jacob but called himself John, so I wrote his name as Jacob “John” Joseph. Not sure if that is correct but I did it anyway). So many trees have now sprouted up with exactly that title…..and hardly anyone seems to even bother to use the sources I have found. At least I try to find sources and where possible add them. Also I have paid from Australia for English BDM certificates, some not the right person, but that’s a chance you take. Allowing for the exchange rate it can be quite expensive. I was so fed up with people copying them, with not even a “thanks”. Also where I found a blaring mistake, like saying my g g grandfather who came here with his family in 1839, was born in the Canary Islands!!!!!! when I even have a copy of his birth register (which again I paid for via a Historical Society in the county in question) and yet they still wrote he was born in the Canary Islands when it clearly stated Kent , UK I gave up and made that family tree private. Making contact and nicely explaining to someone that the info wasn’t QUITE correct, has met with total silence. No replies at all….if someone did that for me I would be very grateful. So yes, who cares, as long as we know we have done the best we can, and found sources etc., why the heck should others use that info. I know they may???? be family, but I really wonder, where they have them living in a totally different part of the country, born at different times, but just enough facts to put them in with my ancestors. I love to share my info and get so excited when I meet a genuine ancestor. I asked one man on ancestry, via email, very nicely where he got his info from as it was very interesting (which was the genuine truth). He blindly replied to me “oh I just copy things that other people put up on their trees”!!!!!! I couldn’t even reply, I didn’t want to be rude and I think he genuinely was being “nice”. He just didn’t get it. Wow end of my novel….touched a nerve there, but obviously something many of us find happens when we have our trees online. It is a dilemma for sure. Cheers Vicki

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Vicki! You’re last remark about his copying things is exactly what is making this particular family so hard to do. I was ecstatic when I found all the information until I was told “I am only collecting the information, nothing has been researched by me” or something along those lines. That pushed me to review everything and try to find out where each story came from originally.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes Cathy I understand your frustration, and we know we should always as much as possible find sources or some source to prove who the person is, which is why it’s so frustrating when others just copy and don’t even think. I for one wouldn’t really want someone on my family tree who didn’t belong there!!! Keep on doing the best you can, it’s all we can do I guess….cheers.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes (and no), I do feel responsible if someone copied my earlier work. Like comments mentioned above, there were instances where I found errors in my research, and reached out, but absolutely to no avail. There are several trees out there with children under the wrong parents, a newbie error of mine when I assumed because they were buried by each other, and met the right age group, they must be parent/child. *sigh* It was shortly after that I made my tree private on Ancestry. I started screening people when asked for an invite. Frankly anymore I ask which branch they’re interested in, and sometimes send a small “family piece” GedCom file pertinent to their question rather than open my whole tree for possible copying.

    Ancestry’s TV ads drive me wild, “I typed my name and Ancestry opened the door to my past.” Unfortunately those new to Ancestry make the same assumption as Amy (and me), it’s in a tree online, so it must be true, when they really need to look at documents and do their research. It’s an instant society, we can’t stand to wait at a stoplight, let alone dig into old records when we can just copy someone else’s.

    Great post, Cathy, thought-provoking–you have years of research experience over me. Looking forward to reading your 5th great-grandfather’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my Sims’ cousins wrote, “…once something goes into print, it magically becomes true, no matter what the circumstance.” I don’t want my posts to be taken as gospel but at least I will be getting the correction out there.
      I learned by comments here and on Facebook that maybe I should be getting in touch with private owners like you who are more serious about their research.
      Thank you pastsmith!


      1. Yeah, “It’s on the internet, so it must be true.” Unfortunate myth.
        Even the private researchers don’t always want to collaborate or share. I get VERY frustrated trying to contact relatives found online. You’ve hit several hot buttons for me!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Even though I have gone between making my family tree private and non private, thinking that if it is public I would get more hits from other people researching my family, and instead just finding people copying things willy nilly, I do find it really frustrating when I have contacted other users, and never had a response, even if the system shows they may have just been online the day before. I love to be able to hear from other hopefully family members, esp as I am in Australia and the family was originally from the UK in the 1800s. So I live in hope that a UK family may contact me. One person did, but was extremely off hand and almost rude, stating the connection was very remote so would be of no use to me. Such a shame, as I like to think I have information in Australia that they may not have, and that I can always check out info from the archives here, which aren’t online. I guess it’s their loss, but I feel it’s my loss too.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I agree with everything you wrote, but take heart, Heneker. There are a few helpful, interested researchers out there: I’ve found two related to me in eight years….you have to wade thru a lot of poo to find them…

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Cathy, what dilemmas! Good research. I also have Alsatian roots, and I am curious about something. I assumed because my ancestors gave Germany as the country of origin on almost all the U.S. records I’ve seen and spoke German that they identified as German. Now I’ve contacted someone through Ancestry who knew another part of this branch and said they considered themselves decidedly French. Do you have answers to this question for your own family?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luanne, in my database I list the village they were from as Oberhoffen, Northern Alsace, present-day France. I have not found a map which would help me identify the country of origin at different times – similar to the county formation maps in the USA. The FamilySearch catalog lists Elsaß-Lothringen, Germany, now Bas-Rhin, France. I would have to look up a timeline for when it changed, which was several times. The Rupp family spoke German and attended Lutheran church which kept their records in German in American.

      For your family you might have to consider where the town was located in Alsace and when they lived there. I found this article easy to follow:
      Alsace written by: the Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Luanne if they considered themselves French and had German sounding surnames they may have had a “frenchy” pronunciation for it. I worked with a girl named Meyer and she always corrected people who pronounced it Mey-er, saying it was May-air.


  8. I am glad you started this discussion, Cathy. I have several trees on, and they’re all private. I’ve seen so many other trees with errors about my family that it pains me, and I did contact a couple of those tree owners and provided correct information, but as some others have mentioned, the information was ignored.

    The most ridiculous example is a photo of the tombstone of my 2nd great grandfather, who happens to have the same name as his grandfather, your ancestor and mine, Zachariah Peters. That photo is found on many trees, on his grandfather’s (the wrong) record), even though the dates of birth and death are visible on the tombstone. I don’t know how many trees it’s on now, too many. The point is, it’s a waste of time and could take an eternity to try to correct information that all the cabbage heads in the world have happily copied without paying attention. I finally added a comment about the mistake (in a polite way) to the photo on one tree, so that the comment will be copied with the photo. And that’s why all my trees are private. I, too, use the public trees for clues and do the best I can to document everything.

    I have to mention one instance to demonstrate how people will copy anything and everything. An user contacted me, claiming we shared a particular Turner ancestor, who happens to be my 2nd great grandmother. I doubted this, since I knew of every descendant. After exchanging a couple of messages, I told her that we could be distant cousins, but the person she named was not her ancestor. Her reply: “. . . but I feel that everyone in the tree is an ancestor of mine, too. . .” She didn’t seem to understand what an “ancestor” is. I was polite with her, but she needed a lot of hand-holding. I offered to help if she had any questions and never heard from her again.

    As my grandmother used to say, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Paula, I found the same thing with Johann Jacob Rupp, the immigrant. There is a tombstone attached to him from Dauphin Co., PA, which gives 21 July 1720 as birth and 21 September 1793 as death. It is attached to FORTY-FOUR trees – I did not look to see if any were for the correct individual.

      What I don’t understand is the person who originally posted it was very good about “giving due credit” to the Find A Grave submitter but didn’t bother to compare the birth date with that of “my” Rupp who was born 8 March 1723. This has caused so much confusion that a mess of Pennsylvania records have been attached to “my” Rupp.

      Many people do not know the definition of ancestor. We can only be polite and do hand-holding for so long.

      Thank you Paula!


  9. Cathy, just harking back on the post regarding other people just blinding putting info on their tree’s. You are right, everything I have read says what you said. You must be able to verify everything. It can be so hard. I find esp as I mainly am using England BDM for the older records (as most of both mum and dad’s families originated came from the UK). Whilst you can find for instance a marriage record stating the father’s name of the bride and same as for the groom, it is so amazing how many people were called Mary (the bride) whose father was John, the groom was John and his father was John. Lol…..just a made up example, but even people with more unusual names seem to come up more than once, and are obiviously different families. I am still trying to find my ggg grandfather in London, who I believed died not long after his son, my gg grandfather (and I think only child) was born. His name was Jacob Joseph.!!!! I have already paid $30 odd Aussie dollars for 4 certificates of death, one I thought I had right, when the informant was a Rachel, the name of his wife, but then nothing seems to match that she was his wife, rather just an informant (nurse, friend, neighbour???) I don’t know. So now there are still about 3 left that could fit, which means by the time I can afford to get the certificates I will have spent well over $100 for a pile of certificates which are of no use to me. But on the other hand I certainly don’t want to put down the wrong person as being my ggg grandfather. As he died probably between 1844-1850 there was only one census in 1841 that he should be on, but I can’t find anything helpful there, except to give me names of Jacob Joseph’s who were on the census and could or could not be him. Grrrrrrr… it’s such a dilemma to know what to do, esp when you don’t live in that country and can’t just go and do research for yourself. That means paying a researcher. I have already done that for some info on another family and it really helped not totally, but got me started. So your title of your blog about the “Brick walls” is so apt. And whenever a hint pops up, I get so excited, until I see that the information the person has put down seems to be the same as the info I already have, and researched, and put down my sources (where they haven’t) and they never seem to have any extra information which could be of help. Once again back to your initial post really isn’t it. is great in many ways but has it’s drawbacks. I have tried Find My Past a few times by just paying for short blocks of use, but I can’t get my head around it, and in the end I usually just come up with the same information I have already found on ancestry. Oh well…..guess brick walls are a fact of life in genealogy….good luck, I love your blog… Cheers Vicki

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great article, Cathy. Even with best intentions errors can find their way into our work. Also, when we start out in this great hobby we’re not always as discerning as we will become with time. That’s the reason it’s such a great idea to go back and reevaluate what you’ve done in the past to make sure your work doesn’t contain errors (which I think is the reason the whole concept of “genealogy do-over” has caught on with so many people like it has).

    I believe every serious genealogist has a widely perpetuated genealogical error that drives them nuts. For me, it has to do with my earliest known Hughes ancestor, Abner Hughes. Somewhere along the line, someone began adding the middle initial of “A” to his name, so he is referred to as “Abner A. Hughes.” There is NOT ONE DOCUMENT that refers to him as such. There WAS, however, an Abner A. Hughes living in Alabama while mine lived in Tennessee, who, so far as I know was totally unrelated to mine, but COME ON PEOPLE! Try to exhibit at least rudimentary research skills and judgment in developing your tree!! I believe that there are more trees on line now referring to my Abner as “Abner A.” than by his correct name. It’s a little thing, but it drives me CRAZY!!

    But from the other perspective, I think it’s WONDERFUL that you make your research available on line, even if in the early days some part of it was not correct. It gives researchers new to your lines a basic framework to work with – it’s up to them to verify the accuracy of the data. Regarding your recent work, not only are your blog posts fascinating, they’re informative and well documented. What you do helps many people. I know I’ve benefited tremendously from your work and your generosity. In addition, as I’ve said before, you serve as a great inspiration and motivator for me! So thanks for all or the research you’ve made available, even if there were small mistakes! And don’t sweat the small stuff!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim you really know how to make a girl feel good! I will continue trying to bring the errors to people’s attention through my blog but as long as I see they are not putting an effort into getting it right I will not even try to correct them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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