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DON'T TAKE IT AT FACE VALUE

Dear Sir I'm writing to you about the bicycle. Why so, this is a genealogy magazine! But please bear with me, for the reason is two-fold.

To my astonishment, the bicycle topped The Times's recent poll of the greatest inventions of the last 250 years - ahead of electricity, the computer, vaccination, et al. The bike also recently won a similar BBC Today Programme inventions poll. The Times website reported the surprise result, and included comments attributed to the geneticist Steve Jones, who claimed that the bicycle "...had a direct effect on human evolution, by bringing to an end the inbreeding that was once endemic in village communities." Well, that was the first reason for me bringing this to your attention: have you considered looking at the part the bicycle has played in family history?

The second reason is a warning - which I believe is pertinent to all family historians, and which I'm sure Your Family Tree magazine reminds us of regularly: always double-check.

I read this report about the poll, from a source I trust (The Times) and believed at face value a seemingly amazing story that, as a cyclist myself, I must admit I wanted to believe. But digging deeper I found there was more to it.

Turns out there has been a concerted campaign by some cyclist groups and websites (www.bikemagic.com amongst them) encouraging their members to vote en mass in these polls, falsely skewing the results in favour of the bicycle and thereby generating a bit of good PR for cycling. An ingenious way to carry on, no doubt. But it makes you wonder which other resources - from past and present - we blindly rely on for our family history research could have been affected by invisible, extraneous variables. Here's the moral: just because you want it to be true doesn't mean it is. David Britton South Gloucestershire

Thanks for your letter, David. Perhaps one example is what's in the International Genealogical Index, or even on websites like Genes Reunited. Some researchers want so much to have descended from a certain line that they make it so with their 'findings'. We do have to be careful whenever we adopt someone else's research into our own trees. Let's hope the censuses and BMD indexes can't be influenced by online or text message voting, though, eh?

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