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A False Lead in the Search for John Davis Riddle

Oftentimes, we genealogists hear cautionary advice about trusting family trees we find online. So many of these have no sources attached, and we cannot verify the information. In other words, we cannot take a family found on the internet and assume it is correct.

This month I learned the soundness of this advice. For years, I have searched for the birth family for my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). Family papers and the U.S. census for Michigan tell me that he was born in Pennsylvania.

As I resumed research on him and his line this year, again I looked online for any family trees that included his name. Usually I have found nothing, but this time I located a tree connecting him to a Riddle family in Chester County, Pennsylvania. A clue, at last! Was this the breakthrough I have sought so long?

I eagerly contacted the person who had posted the tree. I wanted to find out how they had matched the Davis/David Riddle in Pennsylvania to the John Davis Riddle of Mendon, Michigan. My hopes were dashed after we exchanged messages. Unfortunately, the person had simply hypothesized this relationship without any real proof. He/she had added John Davis Riddle and his children to the online tree on spec, hoping to locate relatives and to identify DNA matches. The posted tree was a fishing expedition although it was not labeled as such.

Am I again at a dead end? Perhaps my John Davis Riddle did hail from the Riddles of Chester County. But so far, no one seems to have any documentation for that. It is disappointing that an unproven family tree was out there to mislead the unwary.

After my correspondence with the person who posted the erroneous tree, it has been removed. But how long had it been up there? I wonder how many people viewed it and copied the unproven relationship into their own trees before I questioned the information. I hope they all knew to verify family trees they found online.

I make it a practice in my own research to post only information that I have verified. I have provided source lists for every fact I put online. You will not find hypothesized information in my online trees.

The hunt for a family for John Davis Riddle continues.

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