The following data was extracted from a search of Ancstry for "James Porter son of Josias Porter". The Ancestry search system for family trees reports back key data elements for each discrete "person card" contained in their database that matches the search terms. To help users find the "right" person they are looking for the data are listed sequential, one line per distinct card found. Data elements included are:
Some obvious data elements, such as DOD and POD, maybe included on an individual card, but are not reported in the table, probably because of space limitations.
Note the wide range in values for each data element in this particular example. Clearly, while this particular search has returned data for a single individual, there's some disagreement about the data for that individual. The question becomes "Are any of these results more accurate than others? How do you tell which is the "right" set of answers.
There are several intersting things that can be learned by examining a data set such as this. First, you can see that different genealogists have accepted different names both for James, his father Josiah, and his spouse "Eleanor (Ellen) Gillespie. Only his mother, Margaret Ewing, is escapes without variation. Variations such as these tell us something about the underlying genealogy, and the thinking of the genealogists involved. For example, the use of the parenthesis around some names (e.g., "Josias (John ?)" probably indicates that the genealogists have seen something that makes them think Josias name might actually be "John". The form "Josias (Josiah) on the other hand probably reflects a simple difference in the way they think the name should be spelled. The distinction between "Eleanor" and "Ellen" Gillespie on the otherhand,