Bias in Genealogy Data–Online and Offline

Have you ever considered why you can’t find the ancestor or the family connection you are looking for?

What about the bias of the data you have access to? Information from one location, data on one family or one surname, records from only related sources are indexed–incomplete, inconsistent, difficult to match the evidence from one source to another.

Part of the problem is the records that survive, with gaps in years and family coverage. Part of the problem is the mobility of the people you seek. Part of the problem is that not every record source includes the same people, even if those persons do not move around. So you are always comparing evidence that has gaps.

The online databases and the published record books reflect the reality of genealogy–and the reason you and I are so intrigued that we continue to search week after week and year after year for New York ancestors. Each new source may include the precious entry you and I want.

For example, the surname of Rothschild. The databases available online show a concentration of the surname in New York City–is that because there are more New York City sources included, or is that a reflection of the true number of persons living in New York City as compared to other parts of the state? Bias in the records or reality of the picture portrayed?

Patience is not a characteristic of genealogists in today’s internet world. Immediate answers are expected. You want to move on to the next ancestor rather than keep checking for genealogy answers not yet there. Keep checking.

Remember that data is being added every day–large quantities of data, only a small percentage of it is currently indexed. FamilySearch, for example adds 300 million records to their databases every day. Here are the Rothschild stats I found:

Genealogies, 6,481 Rothschilds
User submitted genealogies, 3,211 Rothschilds

Historical Records, 82,077 Rothschilds
Born in NY, 6,440 Rothschilds
Born 181-1817, 3, 708 Rothschilds
Laura Jane Rothschild, 189 entries with Laura, Jane, J., L., and no given name

Family Tree, 2,500 Rothschilds
Born New York 1815, 2,500 Rothschilds. Reviewed 12 screens up through births in the 1880’s.

In all of these database sections, filtered and unfiltered, the majority are New York City, and born after 1850. Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS In New York, vital records begin very late, so seeking a birth in 1815-1817 from actual records is a challenge–Church records, family Bibles (if the family was Jewish, no Bible), mid-wives’ journals, newspapers–usually too late, cemetery tombstones and sexton’s records, and so on. Jewish records are the best choice, although they are slower getting into databases.



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