Monday, January 18, 2010

Does your Genealogy have a Mountweazel?

I was driving from my presentation on Saturday, listening to NPR and heard this very interesting fact. Dictionary, encyclopedia publishers and others purposely place a Mountweazel in their books as a copyright trap.

A Mountweazel is the name of a false entry in a publication meant to catch those who would use copyrighted work as their own. It is named after an entry for a Lillian Virginia Mountweazel that was made in the 1975 edition of the New Columbian Encyclopedia. A bio of Mountweazel hailed her achievements as a photographer and her death at the a young 31 years of age on assignment for Combustibles magazine. While her story seemed interesting it was all made up.

The NPR show I was listening to had a caller who talked about his search for a particular bird he had learned about in a dictionary. He pursued information about this Persian bird for 30 years only to find out that it didn't exist, it was a Mountweazel.

This interesting story got me to thinking about how many of us are chasing Mountweeazels in our genealogy. In my mind, a genealogy Mountweazel is an ancestor for whom a descendent has  collected a name and dates for but has little evidence for the ancestor's life. Mountweazels can also be ancestors who have common names and who the genealogist does not take enough time to make sure that they are researching their family tree and not someone elses.

So how do we stomp out the Mountweazels in our genealogy? Cite Your Sources ! I know it's not a lot of fun. I know it's a hassle and believe me I know that research and discovering things is way more fun. But when you don't cite your sources you are not critically looking at whether the family you are researching is your family, you are not keeping record of where you have searched and you are not making it possible for other researchers/family to replicate your research.

You can read more about Mountweazel's at Wikipedia at

1 comment:

TCasteel said...

I liked this post - you made some good points.
I know a few people who could really use this advice. Thanks, Theresa