Getting Started Research Tips

5 Ways To Tell If Your Genealogy Research Is Accurate

5 Ways To Tell If Your Genealogy Research Is Accurate

There is a lot of guesswork and uncertainty in genealogy. People in the past may have put the wrong information on old records, either from genuinely not knowing, or from having something they wanted to hide. Mistakes can be made in transcriptions of documents from one location to another; even tombstones are known to sometimes have mistakes on them from the stone cutter. Census takers make mistakes in the spellings of names (and even dates and places of birth of the householders they enumerate). Those who published family genealogies back in the 19th century, when this was a popular thing to do, often relied on legend, gossip, and the erroneous family stories other people gave them.

There is a lot of room for human error in genealogy research, and you are undoubtedly going to come across it, either in the work of others or through mistakes you make in your own work. Even the best genealogists will once in a while discover they got an entire line wrong based on one incorrect assumption, misinterpretation of a record, or by obtaining a faulty record. With so much room for making mistakes, how do you know you’ve gotten it right? How do you know if your genealogy research is successful?

The fact is, except for mother/child relationships (and even these might be non-biological without you knowing it if there was a secret adoption), genealogy is never a 100 percent sure thing. Even the best, most carefully carried out research can still potentially be proven wrong by a future researcher who discovers a clue no one ever noticed or that has just come to light.

However, there are a few ways to be as sure as you can ever possibly be that your research reveals the correct family relationships and information. Here are five ways you can tell if your genealogy research is most likely correct.

1. You Have Found the Same Information in More Than One Set of Records

The more often a family relationship, name, birth or death date, marriage date, or another important piece of family information is repeated through various record sets, the more likely it is to be correct. This is especially true if the records are primary records (records generated at the time of the event they mention).

For example, if you find the same names of parents or birth date or any other type of information for an ancestor in:

the more reason you have to trust that the information is correct. Unless you find something drastic later that makes you question this information, or that refutes it entirely, you can be reasonably sure your research into this person is successful.

2. Your Research Matches the Research of Other People

In the online age, you are bound to come across people who are distant cousins or relatives by marriage who are working on your line. They may have been working on it for a while, possibly just as long as you or longer. It is important to compare research with these people.

If you find that your research matches up, including the sources you both used to arrive at your conclusions, you can have a great deal of confidence that your research is correct. If there are discrepancies in your research, then one of you is wrong, and you both need to look at your work again.

If you can find other people who have worked on the same line, try matching up your research with theirs. In fact, the more people you find who have done the same research and whose research is identical to yours, the surer you can be that your research is correct.

3. You Can Reverse Engineer Someone Else’s Work

Those big genealogy books of the 19th century, though notorious for containing mistakes, also contain many correct things. Most of them come with annotations in the form of footnotes and/or endnotes as to where the author got the information used to write the genealogy.

Use these sources and find them yourself. It is always good genealogical practice to look at the original record in any case. You may find information on it the original researcher missed. If you can go through all the sources the author used and still come to the same conclusions as him or her, then you can be as sure as you can be that your research is successful.

4. Look for Confirmation for Your Wild Assumptions

Sometimes, in genealogy research, we have to take a leap of faith in our conclusions due to a lack of solid evidence. Even the well-respected genealogical journals often contain articles where the author made their conclusion based on an assumption. However, those assumptions are always backed up with ample amounts of secondary evidence (evidence where the record doesn’t outright state a family relationship or date, but one can be inferred from the information that is there).

If you have made a large assumption in your research, look for secondary evidence to back it up. The more secondary evidence you can find, the better. Once you’ve accumulated enough of it, you are at a point of being as sure as you can be about the accuracy of this line.

Of course, the best thing is if you one day discover a primary record that confirms all of this secondary evidence. Keep looking for a primary source, even if you have a lot of secondary evidence. Just because you haven’t found one yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It may be out there waiting for you to find it.

5. Get DNA Evidence

While still relatively new to the world of genealogy, DNA has a remarkable ability to prove and disprove family relationships that would once have been impossible to confirm. While DNA may not be able to tell you the exact names of your particular ancestors, it can definitely put you in a suspected ancestor’s family (or take you out of it) without a doubt.

If you have a person in your family tree with whom you have a suspected but unconfirmed direct relationship, DNA can confirm or deny it for you. You just need to get at least one (but the more the better) modern descendant of that person to compare their DNA with yours. The various DNA testing companies online can then tell you if the two of you are genetically related within a certain number of generations.

The more people you can get to take the test, the more accurate your results will be, especially if one person doesn’t match up with all of the rest of the people who tested into the family. DNA offers the surest way to confirm the success of your genealogy research, as there is no room for human error in DNA results.

Genealogy is imprecise and uncertain by nature. There is always a chance a relationship or information about an ancestor’s birth, death, marriage, or anything else is wrong. This is truer the farther back into the past you go. People weren’t always as careful about accurate record keeping as they are now, and making up noble lines of descent to make a family seem more prestigious was common. While you can never get around these things entirely, you can make sure your genealogy research is as accurate and successful as it can be by using the five tips above. Being as sure as you can be is the same as declaring victory in genealogy.

Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)

19 Comments

  • Or one of my ancestors gave birth to her child when she was 9 years old. And when one of my ancestors died, his son was born 5 years later. And they give names of wrong parents, and birth places in counties that will be founded at least 20 years later. That’s from my family tree.

  • I have found mistakes in collateral family trees that use two of my great aunts. One claims one aunt as theirs but their great great grandmother is another one: they chose Kate instead of Mayme. Family records show Kate born in 1881 as Catharine and Mayme in 1876 as Mary. Common in Scottish families to give pet names. Another has taken an Aunt and mashed her information together with another person of similar name born in the same year in the same state. Not uncommon. But when you make a suggestion for a change in Ancestry they shut you down and refuse to make changes. These mistakes are the sisters of my great-grandfather and my father knew them all. They were born, christened and raised in the same small town in Ohio. I have birth, christening and death records as well as the family bible. Why can’t they listen to what I have to say? Very odd.

  • I’m very fortunate in that I have some famous ancestors. The real challenged for me is pre-17th century England, even worse pre-1066 Normandy. Not much in the way of written records that far back with the exception of parish records. Some were Earls and Barons. A few were Frankish royalty. There is just very little information on individuals going back that far.

  • Hi Dale,

    You’re welcome to republish one or two articles per month. Please let me know if you’re using the articles on a commercial website/newsletter. Knowing where and how the article is used on a commercial website will help me determine if permission is granted. This is greatly appreciated.

    Citation:

    by Will Moneymaker (Ancestral Findings)
    https://www.ancestralfindings.com

    Thank you,
    Will

  • Just discovered that my death occurred about 10 years ago according to wikitree. All of my family details are correct. If you guys cant get things right I suggest you try something else[ preferably something useful]. Phillip

  • My proof is word of mouth from my grandparents, parents, addresses, birth and death dates, several census of different years. Names are mis-spelled on the census like Warpiea instead of Guadalupe. Morris instead of Mares. Garcia instead of Garza. Nick-names instead of real names. Family secrets are found when you notice that the females had kids from other men but tell their kids they were cousins.lol or their real siblings. lol. I always look for accurate dates for example: how can my father be born on the same date that I was born. Or… the date is wrong when I have proof of his real birthdate on a birth certificate. As I keep doing my research I am able to see the information is real. I can see my great-grandfather signed my mom’s birth certificate. I also see his name on her marriage certificate. I see his death certificate is accurate. Photos also have lots of information. I had my DNA done. There was a 85%match of a man. Then another lady who is also a DNA match shows me a photo that has a photo of the man who is 85% my DNA match. That is proof that the match is accurate between the 3 of us who have never met before but met through our DNA match as 3rd cousins.
    My next step is to look for present relatives that were lost because I moved to another usa state. Lucia Ramirez

  • And finding a piece of information (i.e. birth date or location) repeated over and over in trees using the same source (like a single census record or a single published tree) does not constitute proof of a fact.

  • Interesting to also see many people perpetuate false information such as children being born after the death of the mother. Becomes difficult to believe anything they have posted.

  • Will Moneymaker,
    I am the newsletter editor for our local genealogy society, The Family History Society of Arizona, based in the greater Phoenix area. May I have your permission to use your article “5 Ways to tell if your Research is Accurate” in our newsletter? Of course, I would list you as the author and include a link to ancestralfindings.com.
    Thank you.
    Jessie

  • If you’re going to copy others’ work and graft it onto your own tree, at least supply the source, especially if you haven’t checked the primary data yourself.

  • One of the things that still infuriates me to this day is finding dozens and dozens of researchers (on ancestry for example) copy and paste and regurgitate the same exact info from other’s family trees without even bothering to research and double-check for themselves. The result is hundreds of family trees displaying erroneous information because they all falsely assumed that the status quo must be correct. It’s like a domino effect.

  • City Directories and Cemetery records are priceless, also. In one City Directory I saw my ancestor listed then right above it was his brother’s name with the same address. His brother came over from Liverpool to help in the business, but wasn’t listed in subsequent years’ directories. I found him back in Liverpool where he died at the ripe old age of 34. Never would have known this without the City Directory.
    Cemetery records informed me of the fact that an Uncle had divorced and remarried so was buried in the family plot of the new wife. I had that family name then to do more investigation with other records such as census and marriage. The divorce must have been a family “secret” because I had never heard of it before.

  • Too many take others work as being 100 per cent true. NOT NOT NOT.
    Just because some one has same names on their family tree, does NOT make it written in stone as being correct.
    Vital Records.
    Census
    Birth
    Death
    Funeral
    Marriage
    Those records must be found and documented, documented. documented.

    Errors are made, and are repeated in error perpetually to infinity.

Leave a Comment