Faulty Family Trees - Erasing a Deadly Mistake

I’ve written before about the difficulty in correcting record mistakes but I didn’t expect the situation I’m about to describe as hard to fix.  Boy, was I wrong!
Right before the holidays a co-worker’s adult son went online and discovered that his grandmother was reported as dead on someone’s Ancestry.com tree.  He had the free trial membership, was inexperienced with how the program worked and emotionally impacted by the wrong info, especially at holiday time.  He notified his mom what he discovered.  She told him she had seen the same information a few months earlier when she, too, did a trial membership.  The information was so off that if the woman had died in the 1950’s when the tree said she had two of her children would have never been born.  My co-worker asked me what to do to fix the information since it was upsetting to her children.
I gave her Ancestry.com’s contact number and suggested she call Customer Support and explain the impact the wrong information was having on her family.  She did so and was informed that Ancestry.com policy does not allow for corrections to information placed by members on their trees.  She could file an appeal but it would most likely be wasting her time as the company only approves the removal of “offensive” information.
I don’t know about you but I find it offensive that a loved one has been reported dead when it’s not the case.  I also find it offensive that personal information on living individuals is displayed when the company policy is supposedly to keep that information private.  In this case, the co-worker’s mother’s name, date and place of birth, and marriage information is available because of the incorrectly added death date.  I also find it offensive that the company knows that their member tree information is inaccurate yet provides no recourse to correct wrong information.  If you’re allowing inexperienced individuals a free trial offer with little direction who then abandon what they input you’re going to have wrong information available for a long time.  I also find it offensive that the problem will continue since the company does not provide simple to follow step by step directions for newbies to eliminate the possibility of errors.  I also think it’s offensive to charge a hefty membership fee when they know their site doesn’t work correctly, is error filled and the number of records they tout as available includes wrong information.  Since we’ve all gotten valuable information from each other I’m not advocating  making all trees private; I’d be happy if they added a disclaimer banner when someone is searching on the member trees to remind people to be cautious. 
I told the co-worker yesterday I’d see what I could do.  Last night I looked and wasn’t surprised to see that the error has now spread to a second tree.  Of course it would, since people blindly click other’s information believing it to be accurate.  I emailed both tree owners explaining the error, its impact on the family and asking them nicely to remove the death date which would make the individual’s other info private.  One of the tree owners included in her biography that she’s a beginner so I’m hopeful she responds and I can educate her on how to avoid this problem in the future.  She was on the site yesterday so that’s a good sign for a quick resolution (if she figures out that she can get messages from other members!).  The original source hasn’t been on for over a month so I can see that as going through the appeal process which ancestry did not spell out to my co-worker.  Co-worker said she had previously emailed the individual but the wrong info remains.  I plan on calling Ancestry.com today to find out what the appeal process is and I’ll keep you posted on an upcoming blog. 

Now that Ancestry owns Find-a-Grave I’m wondering if there will be negative changes at the Find-a-Grave site as well.  I’ve always been pleased on how the administrator at Find-a-Grave handled correcting errors.  All you needed to do was email the organization and let them know that you attempted resolution with the memorial owner.  My second cousin was able to get his mother’s information corrected within 2 weeks by showing that both he and I made attempts to resolve the problem before contacting administration.  Why Ancestry.com can’t follow that process is a mystery.


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