Genealogy depends on accuracy to maintain its integrity. If your research has mistakes in it, you aren’t getting the real story of your family history. As a genealogist, the genuine story should be the most important objective of your research. There is also the possibility that other genealogists, present or future, may use your research to guide their own. If there are mistakes in your research, it can get perpetuated across the world of genealogy until everyone who is researching your family believes it’s true, even when it’s not. That is why it is so important to ensure accuracy in all the genealogy research you do.
While the nature of genealogy means that some things may always be reported inaccurately, due to people in the past giving false information that can’t be disproven with currently available records, you can do your best to make sure your research is as accurate as it can possibly be using the highest quality research methods and sources. To that end, here are three genealogy blunders you want to avoid.
1. Relying on Other People’s Research Without Double Checking It
This is a rookie mistake, but it is one you need to be wary against committing if you are a beginning genealogist. You will come across a lot of online family trees, and even published genealogies of some of your family lines that may have been published more than a century ago. It’s easy to just copy their information into your own tree, thinking someone else has done all the hard work of researching that line for you. But doing this would be a mistake. While the information may be entirely accurate, you just don’t know unless you check it for yourself. Even published genealogies can have inaccurate information. In fact, they often do, especially the older ones, as they sometimes rely heavily on family lore and stories that have been passed down through the generations without anyone checking their accuracy. If you copy this information into your own tree without verifying it, you are just propagating more false genealogy information. For every fact that is listed in an online or old published genealogy, you need to make sure it is accurate by looking up sources to support it or examining the listed sources for yourself to make sure they were interpreted or transcribed accurately.
2. Not Including Your Sources in Your Research
Yes, it takes some extra time to cite sources on your research. However, professional genealogists do it, and even those who don’t do it on a professional basis should do it. Citing your sources can be done quickly once you learn how to do it, and there are a number of books on the subject to help you learn the correct way. When you cite sources for every fact you list in your genealogy research, you will be giving other genealogists who may use your research confidence that it is accurate. You can also go back and look at the sources you used to gather certain information if you re-visit those family lines in the future, which you very well may do. Your sources will show you that the information was well-researched, and may even give you clues to further places you can look for information on that family line when you examine them with fresh eyes.
3. Only Using a Few Common Research Tools
Believe it or not, you can’t put together a comprehensive, detailed genealogy using only the census and vital records like birth, death, and marriage certificates. Yet so many would-be genealogists try to do just this. They know that these are tools people use to build their family trees, and they are excellent sources to get you going, especially if you’re just starting. They can take you a long way in meeting and understanding your ancestors. However, they don’t paint the full picture of your ancestors’ lives, and if you never branch out beyond them, there will be large chunks of information missing in your family narrative. Make a better genealogy and learn the intimate details of your ancestors’ lives by using other record sources. In fact, use all you can find. These records may include military records, old newspapers, city directories, immigration records, church records, cemetery records. wills and probate records, tax records, land records, old family documents like diaries and letters, and so much more, If you can get your hands on it, use it in your research. You’ll be so glad you did, and your genealogy research will be much better because of it.
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!)