10 Top Tips To Avoid Common Genealogy Mistakes. It’s so easy to make mistakes in any area of our lives, but if you make a mistake in your family history then you may end up sitting on a branch of someone else’s family tree! I always like to double check everything before adding it to my online or computer based genealogy program, but it is so easy to get swept along in a rush of enthusiasm when you hit a genealogy goldmine online. Here are my 10 top tips to avoid common genealogy mistakes.
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1. Not citing where the information came from
You might remember tomorrow where you found that vital nugget of family history information, and you may recall it next month. But will you be able to say with any certainty what the source was in a years, ten years, twenty years time? That is why citation is so important, it is the thread between you the researcher and information. Anyone in the future should be able to work through your research and retrace your steps and thought patterns completely. CLICK HERE to read my previous post on a very simple, easy citation system.
2. Fishing for your genealogy with a very narrow net
What I mean by fishing for your genealogy with a very narrow net is just looking for that one ancestor and completely ignoring siblings and cousins of each generation. It is precisely those siblings and cousins who may have left you a clue. An good example of this is when the 1871 census came online on Ancestry. I had been trying to find where one of my families lived before arriving in London in the 1830’s. I found them in the 1841 census and both parents stated that they weren’t born in London, all of their children were and I traced their baptisms etc. without any trouble. However both parents died before the 1851 census when they would have been required to give a precise place of birth. I sat for many years with this family who I just could move out of London until tracing all the children in the 1871 census I found the eldest stated (and the enumerator write down bless him!) that he was born in London, but his parents family came from Bakewell, Derbyshire. Hooray – I then could move my search to Derbyshire where I did indeed find them including a mention in a will that they had moved to London.
So expand your searches to include siblings and cousins as they might hold vital clues.
3. Be aware that many women died in childbirth
Finding family groups in the census is easy these days with online resources and it is easy to assume that all the children listed are the offspring of the head of the household and his wife. But in days gone by if a women died in childbirth or from disease or accident then her husband often will remarry very quickly because of practical considerations of who is going to look after the young children and run the household whilst he works. It is all to easy to be looking for a marriage some years earlier than it actually occurred because of it being a 2nd marriage.
4. Finding a famous person in history with the same surname and deciding you must be related.
Please just don’t do this!! For a start it is so difficult to work forward rather than backwards with genealogy and unless it is backed up with something positive like DNA then just don’t go there. Trace your family back generation by generation and if the famous person appears all well and good, but don’t bet your life savings on it!
5. Assume your ancestors knew how to spell their name
Apart from the fact that many of your ancestors probably wouldn’t have been able to read or write the pronunciation of the surname will have varied according to where they lived. Remember that parish registers were written in by someone who may not have been that familiar with the local dialect and probably your ancestor would never have seen the registers anyway to correct any mistakes even if they could read. Do not assume that your family surnames were always spelt the way you spell it. A good tip is to say the surname out loud and think how many different ways you could write what you are hearing.
6. Believing online family trees
Do not become what is known as a “cut and past” family historian. Do not, please do not, find an online tree and assume that the person who researched it has got everything 100% right and then just grab the whole tree and cut and paste it into your online tree. The researcher is human, we all make mistakes. Use the online trees as clues, check every single event recorded and get in contact with the researcher if possible to find out where they got the information from. Then and only then add the information into your genealogy
7. Not backing up your genealogy regularly
You should back up your genealogy every month at least. I chose to do this the 1st of each month. This includes downloading GEDCOM files of my tree online with Ancestry as well as my data on my computer. I even make a copy and leave it with my son in Massachusetts when I go over and visit every few months. You can never have too many back-up! CLICK HERE to read my post on Keeping Your Genealogy Safe
8. Think you will never find someone
I started my genealogy search when I was 14 years old, a strange past-time for a teenager then, and here I am many years later and I am still looking. I could write a dozen names of people I am looking for and have been for many a long year, but every now and again a new record comes online and yippee there they are! Never give up hope – always keep looking Family history is a long game, it’s not something that can be finished in a couple of weekends. In fact one life time is never enough.
9. Don’t share your genealogy with family
Keeping your genealogy to yourself is never a good idea, family members who you think won’t be interested may surprise you and be as passionate about the subject as you are. If you don’t let everyone know that you are the Family History Curator for your family then when someone dies all those wonderful old papers and photos may just be throw away because no one knows who to give them to. Let everyone know that you are the person to talk to about genealogy, not just your parents, siblings, grandparents, but aunts, uncles, cousins and in fact anyone how every distantly related. The more who know what you are doing the better. I can, and have, bored the ears off relatives talking genealogy, but they all know that I am the person to give the boxes from the attic to!
10. Don’t think that DNA is a waste of money
I thought for a long time that DNA was an expensive waste of my genealogy budget, but I was so wrong. After I got a kit for my birthday, I became an advocate for Ancestry DNA kits. They have the largest database which is why I favor them. My genealogy buddies soon caught the DNA fever and got their DNA tested and my friend Sue bashing down brick walls on an almost weekly basis! So give up your walking to work coffee and muffin for a few weeks and buy yourself a DNA kit and I can guarantee you won’t regret it!
10 Top Tips To Avoid Common Genealogy Mistakes – Summary
Are you guilty of any of the ten common genealogy mistakes? I know I have been in the past, but once you see the reasons behind why they are mistakes you won’t be making them again I am sure. Enjoy your family history research and keep in mind those pitfall and I am sure your ancestors wil be found all the more easily.
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