My genealogy is wrong and, if you have more than a couple generations listed in yours, I bet your genealogy is wrong too.
My family tree has errors in it, I just don’t know which specific facts are wrong. I know I have errors because every genealogy with more than a few people and more than a couple generations has mistakes in it.
Occasional errors are just something that happens when we do research and we can’t entirely avoid it. We can, however, do our best to minimize them. We must pay careful attention to every fact we record and do a sanity check to make sure it at least makes sense. Unless your 9th great-grandfather was Native American, he was not born in Massachusetts in 1583. I don’t care how many family trees on Ancestry say so, the place or the date (or both) is wrong. The Mayflower didn’t even arrive until 1620. Don’t perpetuate obvious errors like this by blindly copying previous work.
The silly errors are the easiest to weed out of our research. It is much harder to track down mistakes if the names, dates and places all fit the timeline just fine. Our best tool to make sure these facts are correct is to check multiple sources and document each fact. If we can’t find good documentation we must say so and qualify the information by using words like “probably” or “possibly.” A statement like “John Smith was probably born in 1843 in Boston, Massachusetts. It is possible he was the son of James and Mary Smith” would be a good start for doing further research
If I was adding John to my family tree I would give his birth date as about 1823 and his birth place as Massachusetts. I would not say Boston. I also would not add James and Mary to my tree until I had better evidence that they actually were John’s parents. I use a custom source type that I call Compilers Note: and I would add it to my source list like this:
Compilers Note: The 1900 census for Boston list John Smith as 57 years old and born in Massachusetts. The 1850 Boston census lists a James Smith with wife Mary and son John, age 7. Further evidence is need to prove the link but it is possible that these two are the same John Smith.
Other common errors to look for are deaths before birth dates, child born when mother was too young or too old, step parents listed as birth parents, duplicate people, confusing two people with the same name and a whole lot more potential misinformation.
One of the most common ways to introduce errors is by merging another researchers tree with yours. It is very tempting to just pull in a whole new family branch at once but, if you do, make sure you do a sanity check on the new entries and check the sources for yourself if there is any question.
Despite my best efforts to keep them out, errors still seem to creep into my family tree. I ruthlessly chop them out if I find them and I really appreciate it when other researchers raise questions about my “facts.” Because I already know that I have errors, I don’t take it as an insult when someone questions my data. Having other sets of eyes never hurts and it is one of the best reasons to make your genealogy public. Again though, don’t just accept someone’s word though. Use their comments as hints and do your own research to confirm.
There may be times when you will have to chop a major branch off your tree because of one wrong or unproven parentage. That can be very hard but you have to do it. A questionable ancestor that you just can’t bear to delete can make your whole tree suspect to others who spot the error. Just keep in mind that it isn’t the number of people in the tree that counts. It is the quality of the research that makes for Great Genealogy.
There is one type of error that, I think, needs it’s own blog post. So, in an upcoming post, I will talk about what to do when you decide that a well documented and widely accepted linage just might be wrong.
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