9 Common Mistakes that People Doing Genealogy Make
People looking for information about their ancestors sometimes make these mistakes
I have now helped hundreds of people to find their ancestors and seen hundreds of genealogical trees. Here are some of the mistakes that I see frequently, particularly by those new to genealogy research.
1. Assuming everything in online trees is correct
When doing your research, it's important to remember that anyone can put anything in a tree online. Though often the information is correct that people put together, there are no guarantees. It's vital to look at the documents that people use to in order to come to the conclusions that they do and analyze all information that you find carefully. If there are no sources to prove what you see, then you will need to find documents or other sources.
When referring to "online trees", I am referring to trees on Ancestry and MyHeritage, the FamilySearch Family Tree, a GEDCOM file, or any other site that has family trees. I am also referring to FindaGrave, which has great information at times, but is also subject to errors because anyone can put any information they like on a page. Unless you can see an actual tombstone image or sources to prove the information, you cannot believe all of the information listed without more evidence.
2. Relying heavily on research of others and printed books without looking for sources
Many people have inherited genealogies, printed books, or research done by a family member that they are using a primary source. Unfortunately, often the sources and documents used are not listed that prove the information is correct.
It can be helpful to look at the date that the information was compiled. If the information in a book refers to people that may have been living recently compared to the publication date, then the information may based on living people giving the information and is more likely to be correct. Information about people many generations in the past, however, may or may not be correct.
Always look for sources to verify that the information you find in genealogy that you inherited or have found in a printed book is correct.
3. Not talking to living relatives who know information
Sometimes people overlook their best source of learning about their family, which is their living family members. Make sure to talk to all of the relatives that are living that may know information. This includes not just parents and granparents, but other relatives like aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins.
4. Believing every family story completely
Most families have family stories that they tell. While many family stories are true, sometimes the truth has been changed somewhat over the years as a story is told and retold. For example, many families have a family story that they have an ancestor that was an Cherokee princess, but it's usually not true. Always verify your information from actual contemporary documents if at all possible.
5. Not taking variant spellings into account
In earlier times, name spellings weren't as important as they are today. Often people would spell their name in multiple ways, particularly if they didn't have as much education, or the person recording information could have spelled a name based on what they heard. It's a good idea to look for and consider variations of your ancestor's name.
6. Assuming that all of the needed records are found online and are searchable by name
While more records are coming online daily, not all of those records are found on a large genealogy website or searchable by name. For example, FamilySearch has many unindexed records that are available to view through the FamilySearch catalog. There are also many smaller websites that have genealogy records apart from the large sites (we have a directory of records that can be helpful). There are also archives and libraries with records that require an in-person visit to view them. So don't give up on your search just because you don't find what you're looking for easily.
7. Using only vital and census records and copying others trees instead of going deeper
You can learn a lot more about your ancestors when you use a variety of records. Records like probate records, land deeds, tax lists, court records, newspapers, passenger lists, naturalization records, church records, old county histories, and many others may be helpful in locating your ancestor. Our list of genealogy record types is a good beginning place to consider other types of records to use in your research.
8. Failing to document why you know things
If you don't have a record of which documents you have located (and preferable saved digital images of them as well), as well as notes of what conclusions you have come to about your family, you might forget about them. Or others will not know about them after you are gone.
9. Failing to put your documents and sources online so other people will be able to use your research in the future
If you have only paper copies of your research, they could be lost in the future, whether by someone else throwing out or other reasons. You can benefit many people by recording and documenting all that you have learned and put them online in a publicly available place where there will be a permanent record after you are gone. Even if it doesn't appear that your close relatives are interested in your work, you likely have many cousins with your same ancestors that will be. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to have a plan in place so that your work will not be lost after you are gone.
Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.