One of the great things about sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, or Wikitree is their collaborative nature. They allow distant cousins to connect by sharing and comparing their own research to the work of others. Sometimes great discoveries can be made this way.
This is not one of those times.
Two years ago, in the original Wither William article, I wrote about my 2nd great uncle William Graham, the son of Jesse F. Graham and Sarah F. Scott. The only verifiable record of William was the 1880 census of Bear Creek Township, Searcy County, Arkansas. Information provided by his mother Sarah on the 1900 census of Red River Township, Searcy County, indicated that William was dead by 1900.
What prompted that first article was that then, in 2020, a distant relative found a Find A Grave memorial for another William Graham that died in Texas in 1947 and linked it to Jesse and Sarah’s memorials without doing due diligence to provide evidence. After starting my own research into this Texas William, I determined that he was not our William. Eventually, I came to be the manager of Texas William’s Find a Grave memorial and I removed the unproven information from it.
“What kind of damage had been done to others’ research?” I wrote two years ago. Well, I can now answer that question.
First, Find a Grave is owned by Ancestry. So, when Ancestry updated its Find a Grave index, the algorithm that makes record suggestions with the cute little shakey leaves started suggesting that Texas William’s memorial belonged to our William. As we all know from experience, a lot of folks accept those suggestions as if they are facts without taking the time to inspect the actual records. Even though I’d eliminated the incorrect data from Texas William’s memorial, Ancestry still suggests it to other researchers as a possible record for our William. Many of those researchers will simply accept the suggestion as fact without doing due diligence.
Second, Find a Grave memorials have a link to another service called We Remember by Ancestry, which invites visitors to leave memories of their deceased relatives. The same relative that linked Texas William’s memorial to our William used We Remember to leave a note that said words to the effect of “William disappeared and his family never knew what happened to him,” which is flatly contradicted by the 1900 census wherein William’s mother Sarah indicated he was dead. So, I took steps to have that removed.
Third, just this year I have declined multiple attempts by another researcher to re-link Texas William’s Find a Grave memorial to Jesse and Sarah. Two years have passed since the original error and the effects of this poor research haven’t gone away.
Fourth, I have spent a significant amount of time researching this Texas William and I haven’t found enough evidence to prove or disprove who his parents were. Texas William was living in Van Zandt County, Texas at the time of his death in 1947, and there were at least two other Graham families in that county with sons named William born circa 1864. I can’t yet prove his parents one way or the other, but I am confident that Texas William isn’t our William.
Just today I declined another attempt to link Texas William into our family. I felt like venting a little.