Perpetuating Misinformation

At least when it applies to information, especially genealogy information, undoubtedly the Internet is the easiest and most convenient resource to perpetuate misinformation.

Last week I came across the memorial page for one of my Taylor cousins buried in Arkansas. I had been wanting to verify this cousin’s middle name and I was elated to find his full name listed on the memorial page as well as information about his parentage and his Civil War service. Then, I realized that he was listed as having served in a Confederate regiment from Georgia … this struck me as odd since this man was born and died in Arkansas and likely never left the state. Well, I threw down the gauntlet and began an investigation.

First, I contacted the contributor who had created the memorial page and verified that he had indeed eyeballed the headstone and personally took the photograph. He informed me that the stone was very difficult to read but he could make out the inscription … then he added that, “Some of the other information was found using”

I went online and beginning with Rootsweb (i.e. I followed link after link finally finding a 2007 survey of the cemetery on a page of USGenWeb archives. I contacted the county coordinator only to discover that the contributor of the 2007 survey was deceased. I explained my suspicions about the information to the county coordinator and she immediately joined the investigation to find the truth … (editor’s note – this is a phenomenon that you rarely find anymore … someone with integrity willing to cooperate in finding the truth and correcting an error !). While she was researching elsewhere, I went to and checked Arkansas Taylor’s who fought for the Confederacy and found that there were two in that Arkansas county with the same initials … one from GA who fought with a GA regt, and, one from AR who fought with an AR regt.

To try and shorten the story of the investigation … here are the results: (1) in the 1970’s a volunteer made a survey of the cemetery in question .. instead of simply recording the known facts (although she did include the vital fact that only the initials for the deceased’s first & middle names were engraved on the headstone), she added a comment that the person buried in that grave was listed as dwelling #000 in the county’s 1850 Federal Census…THIS WAS TOTALLY INCORRECT INFORMATION since that dwelling was occupied by the other Taylor! (2) many years later in 2007 another volunteer compiles an updated survey of the cemetery. She (no doubt with all good intentions) sees the earlier comment and expounds in it with additional information and this time part of the information belongs to one of the Taylor’s and part of it belongs to the other. (3) in late 2009 a contributor walks the cemetery in question, takes photos and enters his findings on Unfortunately, he decides to include additional information available on the Internet and includes the misinformation found in items (1) and/or (2) described above.

Conclusion… As a result of items (1), (2), and (3) described above, we have a grave in an Arkansas cemetery clearly identified at least in three different locations on the Internet (which probably equates to dozens if not hundreds of locations) and the information is (partially) incorrect on all three and in two of the listings even the name of the deceased is wrong because it belongs to another individual! Item (3) was easy to correct … the contributor cooperated fully and changed all the misinformation on the memorial page he had created. Item (1) cannot be corrected or changed because it was done in printed form back in the 1970’s and no one knows what libraries it was sent to, and worst, what genealogical publications might have reprinted it. Item (2) has so far not been corrected and may not be. Although the county coordinator is very willing to correct the document, she is unable to locate the Internet repository where the document/folder is located in order to make the changes. At least her efforts are continuing.

The LESSON TO BE LEARNED … Anytime you compile, compose, write, or otherwise generate a document or something that others might view as a secondary or (God forbid) a primary genealogy source, ALWAYS stick to the known facts ONLY. If you can’t help yourself and you just must add additional information then label it as such … for example, write, “Editor’s note .. or, Compiler’s note .. or, Contributor’s comment .. or, Personal observation” .. or, whatever it takes to differentiate the facts from the non-facts!!!!