As a followup to my last post about the mistaken newspaper publication of one relative’s death in California, I want to address the larger problem of misinformation all too commonly found in online family trees. I’ve grown to expect errors in online family trees. Although I am careful to published only verified information on my own family, I have experienced helpful folks point out errors in my own trees. I welcome them because the last thing I want to do is lead others astray. I sometimes go through the effort to contact the owners of other trees that contain errors. But I do not seem to have the time to do that very often. So perhaps they all will read this example and take it for what it is worth and apply the underpinning principle – “do your homework.”

The subject of my previous post is Henry Eliakim HOLBROOK, son of James Trask HOLBROOK and Electa Bothwell MORSE. Henry was born 29 Apr 1842, at Oakham, Worcester Co, Mass. He never married and died 12 Jun 1911 at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles, California.

There are no fewer than seventeen family trees at Ancestry.com which give “1843” as the death date for Henry E. HOLBROOK. No doubt that number of those trees will increase due to Ancestry’s “hint” system which is too often blindly accepted and duplicated by others as a new “fact.” Those online family trees insinuate that Henry did not attain adulthood and died in Oakham providing no sources other than other family trees containing the same error. Oakham records are quite complete; and there are no death records for any person named HOLBROOK in Oakham through 1849 in the Early Vital Records of Massachusetts to the end of 1849 series. There are a few HOLBROOK births and marriages – all close relations of James Trask HOLBROOK. The reason no death record exists is simple. Henry E. didn’t die in 1843; and in fact he is enumerated with his family still at Oakham in both the 1850 federal census and the 1855 Massachusetts state census. Those entries consistently give his name clearly – including the initial ”E.” Henry moved west after 1855 with his family to Hubbardston, Michigan and is enumerated there in the 1860 census – again alive and well with his name clearly recorded for anyone to find. He even survived his Civil War service. It isn’t until the later decades of the 20th century that he becomes difficult to pinpoint. This is partly because he had very little (in earthly terms) and tended to wander a bit – living in various locales.

Besides the conflicting birth dates and the obvious middle initial difference, practically all the aforementioned Ancestry.com family trees give Henry E. a “brother” named Henry Clay HOLBROOK born 24 June 1842 – less than two months after Henry E. HOLBROOK’s date of birth. This is obviously not biologically possible. A quick check in the easily accessed Massachusetts vital records reveals that Henry Clay HOLBROOK is the child of Henry HOLBROOK and Sally WADSWORTH and was born on that date in Barre, Worcester Co., Mass., about a three-hour walk from Oakham. Following Henry C. HOLBROOK in the census and other records I found to be very straight forward. He also moved west, and ended up in Nevada, then to San Francisco. He was very well to do; and operated a Victorian hotel/boarding house in a very nice neighborhood on O’Farrell street in the late 19th century.

It would be wonderful if the owners of those misleading family trees would just read this, do their homework, and make the necessary changes in their public trees so others viewing them don’t get derailed along their family history journey searching for “their” Henry.