The Huge Genealogy Mistake We All Need to Stop Making Now

Now Reading
The Huge Genealogy Mistake We All Need to Stop Making Now


New Ancestry Crash Course!

Learn to use Ancestry.com like an expert in 21 days with our fun, online lessons.

Whether you’re just starting out on your genealogy journey, or have been at it for years, you have likely made (many) mistakes. Unless you’ve been professionally trained in research techniques and etiquette (and even if you have) mistakes are part of the process and offer an opportunity to learn and grow as a researcher.

But sometimes mistakes become habits, ones that are very hard to break. And when one person persists in repeating a mistake, others are likely to follow.

As genealogy grows as a hobby, and information becomes easier and easier to find and share, one particular mistake has become a huge problem online – copying and sharing other people’s research.

The reasons NOT to do this are numerous, and yet so many people continue the practice that longtime researchers can’t help wondering why?

Perhaps it is because the reasons why not to are not as obvious as they seem — especially to those who are just starting out. So here is a breakdown of some of the top reasons you should avoid this practice at all costs, even though it can seem like the easiest route to a full family tree.

Inaccuracy

It is easy enough these days to go online, type in an ancestor’s name and a few details, and end up viewing the family tree of a stranger. It is tempting to simply grab that information and add it to your own files. Maybe you feel that because the information matches some of what you already know you can trust it, maybe you’re not that serious about family history and are just looking for a few names to share with family, or perhaps you plan to add it to your tree now and verify the details later. These may all seems like good reasons to copy that data, but they’re not.

Advertisement

You can never be sure whether or not a person’s research is accurate, and simply copying and pasting means that you could be filling up your tree with questionable information. Even if that tree is carefully researched and documented, how can you know that the family historian didn’t make a mistake somewhere? One simple error can easily lead to many more.

When you are assuming that connections and details are correct, it can be incredibly easy to miss errors, even obvious ones, or even add a completely incorrect branch to your family’s story. Do you really want to take the chance?

On the other hand, carefully researching and documenting each new addition yourself gives you the chance to catch inconsistencies, correct problems and expand on details. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you did the digging necessary to make sure the information you’re recording (and sharing with family at your next gathering) is as accurate as possible.

Even finding NO information is better than accepting that which cannot be verified, and may even lead to new discoveries of its own.

Lost Discoveries

Simply copying and pasting information from another person’s tree means many lost chances for discovery. When you don’t take the time to carefully verify whether claims are backed by solid documentation, or look for facts and records yourself, you lose the opportunity add to your research in a meaningful way. You lose endless chances to add vital details and explore new connections. You are likely even losing the chance to discover new family branches.

New discoveries come from careful research. They come from digging and considering, scouring and rejecting, they come from putting details in context and from uncovering things you’ve never encountered before.

Make Instant Discoveries in Your Family Tree Today
Imagine adding your family history information to a simple program and getting hundreds of new discoveries instantly.

MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access right now to their extensive collection of 7.2 billion records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information. Simply sign up using the link below to start making new discoveries right now.

They also come from questioning old family stories and the information you have, or find, that others have compiled. When you come across another person’s research, and accept it at face value, you are losing the chance to find something new and fill out the story of your ancestors.

This is true even if the information you are copying is 100% accurate. JaneDoe23 may have the marriage date and location of great grandpa and grandma Johnson correct, for instance, but because you never took the time to look at the marriage record yourself you will never know that great grandma’s dad was listed as a cobbler or that she had a sister named Mary who acted as her witness, or that great grandpa’s first name is listed as Henrik not Henry. This is what really makes family history research exciting. Don’t miss it!

Hurting Other People’s Research

Let’s face it. Every single family historian is probably guilty of copying information from an online tree without proper verification at some point or another. Even if they did so with the intention of fixing problems later on, it may be causing more problems than they realize.

If you copy incorrect names and dates into your family tree and make that information available online to the public, or even to close family members, then you are now an active link in a chain of inaccuracy. Any family historian may come across your research, assume it’s correct, and copy it themselves. A family member may take your private research and make it publicly available in a few clicks (this does happen). If you’ve ever played a game of “telephone” you can imagine how quickly this can go wrong. Not only can incorrect information spread like wildfire this way, as it spreads it can easily gain even more errors.

And once a few people copy this information without taking the time to carefully verify it, there is no way of stopping it. Even if alternative correct information is available a newbie is more likely to believe what they see again and again. If you have been doing genealogy research for any length of time you have probably seen this in action — tens of tree with the same glaringly obvious name, date or entire family line in place. That false information could easily persist for generations. Avoid being part of this chain of errors at all costs.

What to Do Instead of Copying and Sharing

Use the information you find in other people’s trees as a helper only. Instead of copying it into your own tree, take the time to make sure every name, date and location is backed by a source document or reasonable alternative first. This includes connections between lines (for instance, John Anderson’s information in that great tree you found on Ancestry may be correct and well documented, but is he really the father of Anne? Do you have a record that proves that?)

There are many wonderful free resources online: you can easily find many in our new tool here.

A another good strategy is to never share research you are not reasonably sure is correct and that you don’t have records for. Have two trees, one that you use for information you are still working on (which you keep private) and one for details that have been verified (which you share). If you want to share your “working” tree with family members or others to gain their help or insight, be very clear that you do not want it to be published online where it can be taken out of context.

Consider even placing a “?” after any data you are unsure of in your tree to make it clear to everyone that you are not 100% sure of that data. This is a good reminder to yourself as well.

This article is not intended to discourage sharing of family tree information. Sharing research is, afterall, the ultimate purpose for most family historians. Genealogy would be in a sad state if everyone suddenly decided not to offer up their knowledge to others. But it is our responsibility as researchers to make sure the information we are gathering and sharing is accurate. Not doing so makes research harder and less satisfying for everyone.

You might also like: Do You Follow These Rules of Genealogy Research?  or Can’t Find Your Ancestors? 6 Tips for More Effective Genealogy Searches

Image: WPA Administrator appears before Senate Relief Committee. 1938. Library of Congress

Get Our Genealogy Articles by Email Each Week
Stay up to date on our newest articles by subscribing to our free weekly newsletter.
83 Comments
Leave a response
  • March 12, 2017 at 4:09 am

    Just a chance you can help I am at Ashton Keynes Wiltshire John Clifford 1570 also a Richard Clifford 1555 land & property owner the gap I wish to fill is Robert Clifford where did he come from , I am back to Walter fitz Pons who changed his name to Clifford of Clifford Castle Herodfordshire just after 1066 / 70 I believe I am of the Northern Barons Clifford what can you tell me you can us my tag if you want kind regards John Clifford

  • Bill Burbridge
    December 30, 2016 at 8:28 am

    I started my research because I was told my mother, Maiden name Nutter, was descended from the Lancashire witches. This had ,at some time in the past, been traced back but was now lost. I hit a brick wall when I was unable to find my grandfather’s father. I made the mistake of thinking I had found it on someone else’s tree but found this was a similar family with all the same names. I eventually had to remove a lot of names from my tree and it was a lesson hard learned. Now nothing goes on my tree unless I have researched it myself and am 100% sure. Still not found great granddad though and now don’t think I ever will.

    • Randi Rivenbark
      December 30, 2016 at 8:53 am

      You could try checking FTDNA for DNA projects relating to your question or WikiTree for pedigree projects. For an even wider search, you could goggle it. Include the word, Projects, in the search. You could also join WikiTree, it’s free, and begin your own project. Good luck.

    • Adam Roach
      March 11, 2017 at 8:42 pm

      Bill burbridge are you from WV? my grandparents last name is nutter and we know burbridge.

      • Bill Burbridge
        March 12, 2017 at 9:59 am

        Adam Roach, I am from Lancashire England. My maternal grandparents were William Nutter b1896 and Caroline Whittaker b1894 both in Lancashire. My paternal grandparents were Alfred Burbridge b1885 and Margaret Sweeney b1891 again both born in Lancashire. I am aware that members of both families have at various times emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  • Alexander Clark
    December 19, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    People need to not look for and accept what they WANT to be true, as compared to what is provable as true. Calling ancestors SIR and Knight are just one part of this.
    In my particular line of Clark’s we can really only prove back to a guy named Capt Christopher Clark in the late 1600s Virginia. But many of my Clark cousins desperately want to be also descended from John Clark the Navigator ( Ships Pilot) who served on the Mayflower and who was also at Jamestown. As a result there has been a recent leap of faith regarding Christopher Clark’s heritage which of course ends up back with John Clark the Navigator. And everyone just copies the same unprovable info over and over.

  • Dave B
    March 9, 2016 at 7:11 am

    We all have speculative ‘lines’ we are working on, information that we can’t yet document or possibly cannot be documented. Is it not just as important for people to know these lines, as our ‘proven’ line? How can someone help me resolve speculative lines if they don’t know what I am looking at.
    Maybe it is time we just recognize that, and build into the process and format a way to clearly identify what is speculative.

    As to copying/sharing .. In any other discipline, any well documented and sourced facts don’t have to be re-researched every time someone wants to make use of those facts.. To require every user of facts to go back to the original sources, to verify their accuracy is lunacy.. I don’t have access to the Doomsday Book, and never will… I have to be satisfied with a copy someone made of it… Is it accurate? I can only know by comparing to the actual book, which I have no access to.. So I accept the copy as being substantially accurate and move on. How are our genealogies any different?

    • Gail
      March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      My tree was built one document / one individual at a time so nothing needed to be ‘re-researched’. I don’t understand what a ‘speculative line’ is or how one could have an entire line they are uncertain about if we start with ourselves, then our parents, then their parents and so on – starting with the known and working our way back throughout the generations.

      • John Clifford
        March 10, 2016 at 3:09 am

        This all seems a bit niggley as when you have your DNA done the world is your oyster I am rather lucky or am I ? recently I found my self back to 1555 verified by The Clifford association of which I am a member , it becomes very hard to research as the word assumption & about come into the equation which can be said not 100 % I find my self in a void as the Clifford name was NOT around till French PONS / TOENI familys married PONS changed his name to DE Clifford dropping the De later, the name Clifford came from Clifford castle Herefordshire after 1066 owned by the Toeni then owned by Walter fits PONS who married Margaret de Toeni, so DNA now my Y haplogroup is I-M223 Normandy France yet there are other Clifford’s with different Haplo group example I-M253 & lots of R – 269 I am told that we cant be directly related , there is only one other I M 223 at the moment DNA is facinating but you need to give it time as it is very complicated , comments PLEASE

      • Dave B
        March 10, 2016 at 6:41 am

        I had a situation where I had a 3 generation gap between what I knew of my ancestors, and the documented ‘family’. I could not find any information that would move me past the gap. Fortunately, my line of the family fell into a naming method for several generations and so I guessed the names of the missing generations. That is about as speculative as you can get ;).. I put that in my tree, indicated it was a guess, and before long, someone working from the other end contacted me and had information that allowed us to verify that line. I would never have connected with this individual and obtained the information without them first seeing my ‘guessed’ line.

        Everything is speculative until you document it. You may have built your database one proven name at a time, but if you interviewed your grandmother and she told you the names of her ancestors for the last 4 generations… you had a speculative line until it was proven. We don’t necessarily publish them, but we have them.

        Putting your guesses out there, as long as they are clearly indicated as guesses, makes it possible to get the attention of people who might have real information about those people.

        I research my people individually also.. dig up the documents I can find to support the facts I want to present. But I KNOW that other people have done the exact same research before me, so I AM re-researching the evidence. Unless I am the first person doing initial research on a particular persons relationships, it is re-doing the research. If I can document my family back to George III of England, I can be reasonably assured that my family goes back to Charlemagne, without having to do all the original research that it takes to prove it.

        The internet is not where I publish ‘truth’ about my genealogy, it is one of the tools I use to obtain and evaluate information. When I make my information public, it is not to say ‘this is how it is’, but rather a way to get ‘peer review’, shall we say, about what I believe. This has gotten me both confirmations (with documentation) and corrections (with documentation), both of which are valuable.

  • John Clifford
    November 11, 2015 at 3:16 am

    DNA V Genealogy It appears there is no guide lines DNA is new to searchers like myself but Genealogy has been the big part of my research up till now I go along with both BUT will the rank & file of searchers accept both , Comments please a fair crack of the whip for both even HER MAJESTY is now into DNA if you believe the press.

    • Carmel
      December 30, 2016 at 3:48 am

      I have found so many inter family marriages in my family tree, which means that DNA is proving nothing, I have a woman with a 91.6% match, but neither of us can match up our trees because of this, remember that in the past people did not travel far to find their partners. Her Majesty is lucky in so far as her lineage was collected down through the centuries, unlike the rest of us, but DNA will prove the indiscretions in her line.

  • C Edwards
    November 3, 2015 at 5:04 am

    I started to use lower case (joe smith) on names that I want to “test the waters with”. It also helps me remember that I am not sure of this person because I did not put the person’s name as Joe Smith. I also am trying to leave a note/s in the comments field as to why I am adding information.

  • Mark M
    November 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Clearly privatizing your tree is a workable solution for fending off people who “adopt” your research as their own and place it (or misplace it) in their own public trees.
    However…….the vast majority of inquiries I have made to owners of private trees are ignored, or perhaps, never seen. Currently I am doing research on individuals who fought in the Civil War from a specific Arkansas county. Of the 65 inquiries I have sent to owners of private trees, I have gotten exactly four responses. It is more than slightly vexing, and certainly hinders my efforts to preserve the memory of the service of these individuals.

  • Sharon F
    November 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I privatized my tree on Ancestry because I noticed some copying my tree when it was public to theirs with so many mistakes and grabbing mine just made it worse. They didn’t bother to research, just grabbed any tree that had a name close to who they were attempting to find.. So I privatized my tree. The only way anyone can view it is by asking permission and then they will have to privatize THEIR tree if not done already. Years ago, the public trees were thoroughly researched and I met many “cuzins” through trees and we shared info, verified info, and helped each other out. No longer are the public trees trustworthy due to the popularity and people thinking genealogy is easy.

    For instance someone took my paternal grandfather’s history and have him living in Michigan the same year he’s living in PA plus they have his parents totally wrong. Other people copied that person’s tree. I contacted everyone I could. Most thanked me for pointing out the mistake and corrected the info, but the person who first copied my info never acknowledged the error, apologized, or corrected it.. i guess they thought they knew best and I didn’t know who or where my grandfather really lived even though the info came straight from him. .

    • Lydia Sadler
      November 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      I don’t really mind if people copy my work, I am doing this for my pleasure and it does not invalidate my tree. I know a lot of what I have could be inaccurate, and I am focusing on verification rather than research at this point. I want to verify what I already have rather than doing more research. I enrolled in library school because of my interest in research and genealogy and if people want to grab stuff just to fill their tree, instead of doing the work, oh well.

  • David
    November 2, 2015 at 3:18 am

    Absolutely must be careful with the source documentation as well. As someone pointed out previously, it is only as accurate as the information given by and to. I know firsthand my grandmother’s newspaper obituary was erred. My other grandmother’s headstone was etched with the wrong death date, but later corrected. All 3 census reports listing my great grandfather’s info have different birth location sources for his parents. Some people get way too ambitious and accepting of info that is incorrect. I once had a cousin who signed up for the Ancestry 2 week free period and claims that she traced her family all the way back to 300 A.D. during that time. Of course there was no copy that she could show me,,,so pick your battles 🙂 It is supposed to be fun and should be.

  • David
    October 31, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Sorry, but if you know it’s correct why not copy it? I have family that we have shared info with and we all know it’s correct. None of us would have gotten very far without collaborating. I don’t like people who don’t share info, defeats the purpose.

    • November 1, 2015 at 3:31 am

      Hey David the census says it all very accurate better than family recent history as grandma might not have had her teeth in when talking to Johnny about the family so he did not hear exactly hear what she was saying so please researchers doing the censuses that’s fine you should not find you make mistakes if you are thorough . I am no Genealogist by any stretch of the imagination but along the road to where I am now I have got there with help from a lot of Genealogists & helpers certainly 1480 but recently my DNA came up trumps & yesterday I found an uncle surname Hussey in Kent IF HE IS positive all the heart aches will not have been in vane which proves to my family if they want to believe me I AM NOT A FRUIT CAKE

      • Susan P
        November 1, 2015 at 4:57 pm

        Just because it is in the census records does not guarantee it is accurate. I have been a census taker. Census takers are taught to write down whatever they are told; even if they know the information is inaccurate. There is a woman in my family tree who lived most of her life in the 19th century. In the 1890 census she is shown living with her mother and 3 children and listed as a widow. She was NOT a widow. I have a photostat copy of her divorce decree from the father of those 3 children and he was very much alive years after that census was taken. She appears in the 1900 census, once again living with her mother and with 6 children with 2 different surnames and again listed as a widow. I have the 2nd husbands death records and he died in 1931. I also know that she married and divorced a 3rd time, but had only 1 child with husband #3.
        Census takers also make mistakes in recording data. My aunt married at age 16 and she and her new husband lived with her parents at the time of the 1930 census. A few years ago I was in contact with distant cousins who were researching the same material and told me about a missing uncle who appeared in a census and then completely disappeared from the records. We all assumed a son who died young, but no record could be found to confirm. When I finally saw the 1930 census I knew immediately where they got that information. In the 1930 census my aunt was listed with her married name, but living with her parents. The census taker then listed her husband under her maiden name and as a son of the family (not son-in-law) and voila! we have a mysterious son of the family who shows up no where else in any records. Because I knew this couple all my life, I immediately saw the error and notified other researchers of my surname that John H. P…… never existed, but was Bessie P….’s husband listed under the wrong surname.
        You must use all the knowledge you can gather and a whole lot of common sense to get your family tree correct. Many of these errors in records can be discovered if you simply apply logic and common sense to the information you are reading. Also, look closely at hand written data and do not trust that those who transcribe and index always get the spelling (or even the name) correct.

  • Eileen
    October 31, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I never shared it or kept it but I found my grandfather in another tree that had him becoming a father at age four. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

  • Randi Rivenbark
    October 31, 2015 at 7:53 am

    There is a simple solution to a lot of this. It’s called DNA. I have over 16,000 entries on my tree, most of it proved by DNA. At the very least, I know I am a blood relative of people who believe the same information I have is correct. For instance, I didn’t know I had a Dutch line until I started researching. I was still skeptical for a long time. After I had a DNA test, I found matches who had the same Dutch ancestors and no other ancestors in common. DNA also proves that the general ethnicity of the tree is correct. For instance, I didn’t think there was any Native American, and there isn’t. I thought there could be European Jewish, but now I can exclude that. DNA is the best tool to verify your research.

    • Rita
      November 1, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Do you have to subscribe to Ancestry to get the DNA test?

      • Randi Rivenbark
        November 1, 2015 at 2:04 pm

        No, but you should get the 2 weeks free membership and use the time to put in as much of your tree as you can and do research. It will be very helpful to compare your tree to the DNA matches you will get with your results. If you decide not to continue the membership, you will not lose the information you have added. You just won’t be able to access their records for more research. You will still be able to compare your results with your matches and continue to build your tree with the DNA results.

      • John Clifford
        November 9, 2015 at 9:07 am

        I am very interested in your comment as to DNA & Genealogy understanding each other you will have a very rare person who is well versed in both I am in FTDNA a living person is in Ancestry I have his details but find I cannot link with him he is a victim of a stroke his family are not interested in FH any ideas my link is all I need for my tree Kind Regards John Clifford

        • Randi Rivenbark
          November 9, 2015 at 7:17 pm

          If the person in question did not make his tree public, you are probably out of luck. Did he have a DNA test done through ancestry.com? Are you wanting to compare tree information or DNA (or both)? If you are wanting to compare DNA without his help, your only option would be to have yourself tested through ancestry.com and see if he comes up as a match, but you would still need whatever username his results are under or know that he had at least a partial tree associated with the DNA test. You can search your matches by shared ancestors.
          Are you familiar with WikiTree? It’s a free collaboration. You can search there to see if anyone you are interested in has been added to the universal tree.
          Good luck.

          • John Clifford
            November 10, 2015 at 12:22 am

            Hi I have the full tree of the person in question I have his full Ancestry info, FTDNA could only say get him to change to them as the person is not available I have told them all this as I explained fully in my blog to you why is it that FTDNA & ANCESTRY are different systems it makes it difficult to compare or cannot be compared

          • Randi Rivenbark
            November 10, 2015 at 7:47 am

            Why? Simple answer – money

          • John Clifford
            November 11, 2015 at 3:26 am

            Hi Randi Well of course Money always have to come into it some where along the line , Free MEALS there is a cost some where if you look deep enough but your message does not help me to come to a conclusion , This site is great for HELP in the right direction , Have a nice day

          • Randi Rivenbark
            November 12, 2015 at 7:45 am

            I took the time to answer your inquiry fully given the information you provided. Even with your lack of the ability to use punctuation and correct sentence structure, I bothered to decipher your question and give you correct information. Perhaps you have difficulty reading. In short, if you want to access someone else’s DNA information on ancestry.com, you have to have their permission and/or you have to have your DNA test on the ancestry.com site. Since all sites which provide DNA tests charge for that service, why do you think they would allow you to cross sites free? If you don’t think this information has been helpful, that’s your problem.

  • Agneis
    October 31, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Tell me about it! Some stupid woman in Australia has linked her Ancestry tree to mine, claiming that one of my gggfs married one of her gggms, and had a child with her. Despite the fact that he died and was buried here in Glasgow about a decade before the child was born! And despite repeated requests, she won’t remove the link. So every change in her tree notifies me of ‘new info’, and it is frustrating to see that it’s not.

  • Lydia Sadler
    October 30, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    I look at other trees for hints. I know that for many people this is just for fun. I never add to my tree stuff that is not cited, it makes research more difficult. I plan to get my certification in this field so I can help others. I have met some interesting people online, including some living relatives. I have also found people willy-nilly adding stuff they found on my tree to theirs. This does not bother me. For now, I just focus on verification.

  • Nancy
    October 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    If I was to look at other people’s trees, it would be for “hints”- it is best to verify the information yourself. However, if someone looks at another’s tree and sees a mistake and it upsets them, why not stop looking at other people’s trees? I may have mistakes on my trees, but it is “placeholder” information because my tree is a work in progress and will be for a very long time and the work may go forever. I building my tree for me and my family, if people want to take hints from it they can, but do not blame me for mistakes. I enjoy working on my tree and would like to keep enjoying it. The people who are looking at other people’s trees and finding errors and tell everyone that people should not copy and share information but should do there own research, why are those people looking at other’s people’s trees? Just keep doing your own research and work on your own tree so you do not get stressed and upset. Leave others alone to enjoy their family tree and work on it the way they want to. Let everyone be happy.

  • Chad Bumgardner
    October 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Very, very true. My great-great grandfather shares a first and last name with another person from another state. It is amazing how many times the wrong one and his spouse has been copied into other Ancestry.com trees, when it was not very difficult to find records showing they are different people with. The second biggest mistake amateur genealogists (like me) make is assuming that finding the name you’re looking for means it’s the person you’re looking for. The third biggest mistake is assuming that if records/evidence aren’t online, they don’t exist.

  • Betsy Sethman
    October 29, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    One other thing, records such as census and marriage license, etc are not always correct. For example, my grandmother was listed as a King instead on Cain on her son’s marriage license. It all depends on the accuracy of the person giving information and the accuracy of the person recording information. So sources are not always correct.

    • Susan P
      October 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      You make a very valid point. I found my maternal grandparents marriage records. They got the last name of my great grandparents correct — Guess. But listed their daughter (my grandmother) with the last name of Givens. Obviously, who ever transcribed the handwriting made a big mistake.

    • Randi Rivenbark
      November 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      I agree. I’ve seen census records where every single member of a nine person family had their middle name listed as their first name and their first name listed as their middle name. Family knowledge is better than records, in many cases, and sometimes there are no records other than what a family member scribbled down.

  • David
    October 29, 2015 at 7:06 am

    I agree with the article, to a point. Here is where I break with it: Genealogy is a science. Scientists are allowed and encouraged to publish theories while researching proof. They also share their theories with other scientists, in the hopes that collaboration will help prove or disprove. Once a theory is proven or discarded, it is incumbent on the researcher to publish that finding, and for the scientific community at large to stay informed and update their understanding. Applying this principal to genealogy, I will sometimes put theories in my online trees. This leads to conversation with others who may have the same theory. If the theory is disproven, I update my tree accordingly, notify everyone that took part in the conversation to do the same, and leave published comments attached to the individual record that anyone can see. If anyone has copied my theory, and then fails to update their tree after it is revised, that is bad science by them, not me.

  • Tim
    October 29, 2015 at 6:45 am

    While I agree with the general thrust of this article, I have a problem with the idea of ever being “100% sure of that data.” All we can really say is that this source or these sources state such and such. There certainly are varying degrees of certainty, and mindless copying of unverified data is not a good thing, but while I believe that 100% certainty is a worthy objective, it is not an objective reality.

    • October 29, 2015 at 7:15 am

      Hi Tim I have to agree to almost every thing up to know it is so easy to get through the censuses you cant really dispute that
      I have been very lucky to have several Genealogist’s to cheque my research but as I am back to 1480 the going has now got tough I am left with aristocrat & gentry family’s & manorial records what drives me on is my FT DNA I-M223 which was positive our history goes back to the Vikings creating Normandy I have put a question to the site certain dates of birth is your trump card its difficult without that but when you get back 1480 you find in researching the higher ups with family trees established you find as the date of birth the word [ About ] clashes with a definite date of birth which is what is looked on as positive how do they justify that kind regards John Clifford

  • Kelly Collins
    October 27, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I see so many trees with glaring errors on Ancestry and the thing that kills me are the people who want to retain their misinformation. One woman has a tree that includes my GGG-Grandfather, who came from Ireland and settled in Edwardsville, Illinois. This woman has him listed as coming from Germany and dying about 40 years after he actually died, in a completely different state. I contacted this woman and explained that I believed she had errors and this is what my research had shown. She responded that her aunt had done the research and it was handed down to her and she knew it was correct because her aunt had gone a spent much time in courthouses looking up information.

    I offered to send her my proof and explained that I had obtained copies of my GGG-Grandfather’s Civil War service and pension records as well as his estate records. There was information in these records that proved what I was saying, but I recognized she may also have proof to the contrary and asked if it would be possible to view her proof or at least send me source citations so I could look them up. She adamantly refused to give me even one source citation beyond what she had stated about her aunt and she had no interest in my proof and source citations. It was very disheartening and unfortunately, from another experience, where a person incorporated a whole branch of my family into a tree they had no business being in, pictures and all, I know from contacting Ancestry, they take a hands off approach to these situations. I have since made my tree private, though it kills me now to see my information and pictures out there that are just used willy nilly. It is not a good system without checks and balances in place, but Ancestry believes each individual has to be responsible for what they put in their trees and it is not up to them to police it.

    • Margie
      October 30, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Kellie, I so agree with you. It’s disheartening for me to find so many individuals researching the same ancestry line as I am with inaccurate information. As long as a name matches the name they’re researching, they will assume that they’ve found their person. Many times the person they choose have little else in common with their family member.

      There are other trees that I’ve found where people have added someone from my line to their tree that has no relationship at all to their line; except the name. I, too have (in several cases) notified people about the discrepancies in their information, but to no avail. Recently, I made my tree private (and I really didn’t want to do that) because of these kind of issues.

      Initially, I thought that I would be able to communicate and share information with others who were researching my family line, but I discovered that most of the people that I contacted didn’t share my desire, to in a sense collaborate. So now I’m on my own and I find my search so interesting and rewarding because as the article stated, I’m discovering new people and places all the time.

      Yes, this is a time consuming and sometimes, overwhelming process; but I find it very exciting and rewarding. I’ve always had a keen interest in history, I enjoy learning: Who? What? Where? When? and How? Having a strong interest in history is a plus when it comes to researching my family history because I know that my information must be as factual and accurate as humanly possible.

      That means that I need to do a lot of digging, checking and cross-checking to make sure the information that I record in my tree is correct (at least I must feel confident that it’s correct) because I plan to share my family tree information with my family. It’s important to me that my nieces and nephews have an idea of who they are and where they came from.

  • Andrew Greene
    October 27, 2015 at 6:15 am

    The major sites and software should encourage this. I wish they had a simple way to import all the sources from the relevant branch of someone else’s tree into a “to do” queue; that would give us the benefit of other people’s research while encouraging propper vetting of the data that we import.

  • Gena
    October 26, 2015 at 9:49 am

    I’m concerned ab out the tone of this article. Most people don’t have time to spend hours and hours researching and verifying. I certainly want accuracy, but I can’t research every jot ad and tittle. Genealogy should be about sharing. I am glad to share anything I find – free of charge. Let’s stop the genealogical snobbery and obsessions and enjoy the hobby. A sure fire way to run people away from it is to tell them they have to do it all on their own without help from others.

    • Beverly Veltman
      October 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

      I am sure there is a middle way, Gena. All they are saying is to be careful. Take the information and see if it makes sense and verify it if you can. I have been sent down several rabbit holes by taking information for granted, so I do want to make sure I don’t do that to other people.
      Bev

    • Deanna T Beasley
      October 27, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Gena; It is not about snobbery, and this article is dead on right. There are those who do not care about knowing their family ancestors. If one is not careful, the inaccuracy of someone else’s tree can and likely does have the researcher tracing people not related.

      To be a credible genealogist; one has to correspond with the owner of the trees out there and hope they share their evidence with you. It is a give and take of information. Unfortunately alot of taking and very little giving.

      One can not get all the evidence off the computers. At some point one has to get off the computer and make the proverbial field trip to courthouses in different counties and also cemeteries. Not everything is online. THIS IS THE FUN OF GENEALOGY. Getting to know your ancestors with your own work.

    • Drew Smith
      October 27, 2015 at 11:49 am

      It is not snobbery to expect that genealogical research be conducted in a manner that publishes only those facts that the publisher has good reason to believe to be correct. Certainly, good genealogical practice is to share *documented* facts, and to accept from others research that is well documented. Nobody is saying that one can’t get help from others, but at the same time, getting help from others doesn’t mean merely accepting anything that one is told without good reason.

    • Nadine Frisch
      October 27, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      I agree with Gena. I also do not have the money to buy subscriptions to the major sites. I have cousins that have documented THEIR trees and they agree with mine. To verify that the relatives I am adding are the correct ones I look for not only spouses but parents and grandparents. My family never documented very much. all I have are handwritten reunion notes. for my immediate family line. The rest are census records I might be able to find.

  • October 25, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    This is such great advice. I would add, don’t post your own research on the Internet if you want to retain intellectual property rights in the future. I can’t tell you how often I have found my research cut and pasted into familysearch and other places. My research group has adopted all these rules and more, after having unscrupulous researchers steal our work. There is currently a diary we transcribed that was hijacked and put out on the Internet and a server in Asia has claimed copyright. Additionally, if a work isn’t cited properly, then be very suspicious. Primary records are the best when they are available. I have also noted that supposedly vetted researchers who have published are completely wrong about some of the families I have researched in the U.S. and the UK. Know your sources and their value. If there are no citations or someone has published other people’s work – avoid it. The joy in the journey is finding genuine nuggets of gold.

  • October 24, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I am very interested in this site just as a try out , Why is an assumption not proof when you see in famous family trees date of birth ABOUT is there a difference Kind Regards John Clifford

    • JOHN CLIFFORD
      October 31, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      I am replying to my site as I had a good question but to date no comment , but I notice almost all the articles are blaiming every researcher but them selves so what is the problem .

  • Pam
    October 24, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    My main objection is when I put a photo on of my mother some kind soul took that and the rest of my tree all 2500 people and added to their tree, so I have now made my tree private as I have just been searching 10 churches and graveyards for various sources of proof and have found quite a few of them for my tree – I don’t say my tree is 100% perfect but as near as I can get it. On other researchers trees, I always ask what is their connection to my relative before I will consider taking any of they so called research.

  • sally cushing
    October 24, 2015 at 10:51 am

    The only way is to check original documents as very often transribed work has numerous mistakes

  • Betty-Anne
    October 23, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    To stop this Ancestry should stop sharing information that has no proof or if they do they have not cited it. So many have 1 census or nothing – a new researcher can fall for this and perpetuate the errors. Although I do look at others before I add what they found I research the new info and prove it – if no proof then I toss it. . I am sure I still do have mistakes with 10,000 individuals in my data bank.

  • Susan P
    October 23, 2015 at 8:11 am

    The most glaring mistake I find repeatedly is people totally ignoring the timeline of a person’s life. Women listed as having children years AFTER the woman’s death and/or before she was born. Please check the birth and death dates and approximate ages of ALL members of a family.

  • Tod Molesworth
    October 22, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I constantly see blaring mistakes on family trees. It seems as though some people are simply going through the motions and not even checking what they copy and paste! Doubled up children and spouses, etc. If you’re going to be lazy, at least do it correctly :-)!! I also try very hard to be consistent in how the dates and places are put into my tree so that the next generation will not have any problems taking up the sword.

    I’ll message these people and point out the mistakes – sometimes. I hardly ever get a response back but when I do it’s a positive one.

  • Sarah
    October 22, 2015 at 5:10 am

    I’ll just worry about my own tree, not bothered what other people put on theirs, if they want to collect people even wrong ones, it’s up to them, as long as I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.

    • K
      October 30, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Yes, yes, yes, to this. I do the best I can with my tree. I appreciate the assistance I have received from people and I do what I can to help others in turn.

      I would also suggest that people not post anything – photos and such – anywhere on the Internet, especially publicly, if they don’t wish others to share/use/view them. That’s just how the Internet is.

  • October 22, 2015 at 12:55 am

    This is excellent advice. I too have seen many trees with no source citations, as I do look at others’ trees. I actually enjoy reviewing actual records especially census information, I include that family member level of detail in my events for each person. I have often received thanks for including that type of information because other researchers didn’t realize there were additional family members, especially in the instance of twins, as sometimes the records do not import into trees properly, or the relationship to head of household is incorrect. Do not lose sight that volunteers are transcribing these records, which we should all be very grateful for, but there are transcription errors. If you notice one, update the record accordingly or leave a note so that others may see.

  • Patrick Chefalo
    October 21, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Same old genealogy-hoarding advice, not really in tune with modern time. An Ancestry-type tree with hundreds of documents is based on “copying” of sorts. A lot of the leads come from others who shared, then are vetted and supported – or not. The data is the thing, not the method. A tree based on original wrong-headed research has all the potential problems cited here.

    • November 1, 2015 at 3:10 am

      Is any body really reading these blogs almost all are blaming others & not them selves I am in The Clifford Association who are strict on accurate research that much so they at one time were in dispute with the Mormons salt lake city on their info of Clifford’s a prominent member visited them at least twice about the issue & it took 5 years of toing & froing to sort out the wrongs caused over the water buy dreamers / & wish full thinkers, because it does not fit into what you would like you make it fit what you would like WRONG some one picks up your what you would like , uses it is now at a junction is now on a journey to no where & is passing on duff info to people who believe it passes on to others NOT THE WAY TO GO but Genealogy is a wonder full thing Make it TRUE & you will go a long way Better still DNA

  • Nola Rains
    October 20, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve found some really amazing mistakes in other people’s research on-line. Like the guy who listed an ancestor as dying and buried in Licking Co., Ohio simply because that’s where his first wife and several children are buried. The ancestor actually remarried, moved to a different state, raised family, and died in 1863. I have his estate records as proof. And another person listed my great-great grandmother’s maiden name as Dearmond because that’s what is listed on her son’s death certificate. Truth is, Dearmond was the last name of her first husband. Her maiden name was actually Poundstone (Pfundstein in German). And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen children listed with parents who were much to old to have been their parents.

  • Tim
    October 20, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Dear Experts,
    I am merely an amateur and not nearly as experienced as the vast majority of those that have commented. I take tremendous pride in my ancestry and yet wouldn’t begin to claim everything on my tree is %100 accurate or verified. My on line tree is merely a hobby and source for the information I use when compiling the information I use when writing the publications concerning individual family groups within my tree. These are the heirlooms that will be passed from generation to generation. Within these publications both facts and speculation are clearly delineated in order to inspire future generations to use their imaginations and spark inquisitiveness, hoping that the works will continue on long after my demise.

  • Diane
    October 20, 2015 at 8:55 am

    I don’t put something in unless I have a source. I find it humorous to look on some of the trees on ancestry (which I am a world member of) and see trees with no sources. How can they even think to do this? I will admit to using their tree as a pick up point of looking for a source – a name or place I don’t have that might lead to something else, but nothing goes into the tee until I’ve researched it first. Most of the times it will be a good lead, but………….there are the other times that make me glad for being cautious of trusting. I’m not going to throw away 50 years to work just to put it “names and numbers”

    • Beverly Veltman
      October 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      I have been using FTM for years before I shared my tree on Ancestry. What I had been doing all along was to use the Notes app on FTM as my receptical for everything – stories, newspaper clippings, obituaries, etc. AND sources. The printout – ancestor report, which includes everything in one document, is what I used in sharing my research with relatives. Since I shared my tree on Ancestry, I have realized that my sources are not included in my accessible tree. So in order for it to be useful – or held to a higher standard – I have to go back and redo my on line tree. Almost not worth it.

      • Norma Ford
        October 26, 2015 at 6:25 pm

        Like you Beverly, I use the “notes” to tell about my research. I have a heading “Documents Found” and list them. I then follow up with explanations or other information. In this way, the info I have printed out is with that individual and as far as I am concerned makes it more interesting to read. This was my decision to make after reading some family members trees and then having to follow up with their sources which really didn’t have an explanation of info. I check other peoples trees as well but I don’t add the info in my “documents found” until I have checked into it. I don’t have my tree on the internet, it is for family members and I don’t mind sharing with them. If they wish to put it on the internet that is for them to decide.

  • Hattie
    October 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I do from to time copy and paste, with a note that the information needs verification. So much is indexed only that many of the facts can be only be verified with trips or large expenditures. Although ideally verification of each fact is nescessary ;the cost and time should be weighed before discarding the information. Totally unsourced info is copied with way more salt and checking. .
    It would be nice if family search and Ancestry documents were all online for verification.

  • Betsy
    October 19, 2015 at 11:14 am

    A general life lesson that has rich applicability here: “The Only Person I Can Change Is Myself.”

    Do your research the proper, well-cited way, and you will know your research is a shining beacon, and example to others, and that you have not contributed to junk genealogy.

    You will just have to let the others be their own worst reward.

  • Gail
    October 18, 2015 at 11:18 am

    “Let’s face it. Every single family historian is probably guilty of copying information from an online tree without proper verification at some point or another. ” This is absolutely false. Researching is a skill which is refined over time. I have never considered ‘copy and paste’ as researching. By the same token, I have never made my trees public so that someone could ‘copy’ the data that I have spent 30 years gathering – not ‘harvesting’ – and I know many others who have learned to research before the internet. There was a time where finding a ‘cousin’ was the prize and reciprocal sharing was very worthwhile and rewarding. That is not an outdated concept.

  • Sally
    October 18, 2015 at 9:51 am

    This topic has been beaten to death.

  • Vicki Embrey
    October 18, 2015 at 9:07 am

    This drives me nuts. I have a Rev. War ancestor who is incorrect in more online family trees than ones with the right information. There were three soldiers with the same name. The incorrect ones have my ancestor married to another’s wife etc. etc. The thing is–he had a pension file where he listed his wife and kids. The rest of his family has birth, marriage and death records easily found in their CT towns. The Barbour Collection online has that information. It was very easy to find the proper information. It appears that people, in their haste to build an extensive family tree just found information and copied it.

    • Scotnovel
      October 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

      I actually found one tree online that showed my father married to his grandmother. The correct birth dates were listed so it looked a little ridiculous, but if someone can make a mistake that massive I had to assume nothing of theirs was valid.

    • Margaretta Bir
      October 19, 2015 at 5:19 am

      I have found my great+ grandmother listed as married to four different men. She was the first wife of my great + grandfather but I have found her listed as the second wife so someone could get their ancestor’s dates to mesh. A lot of this is on Ancestry.com which I can’t flag as I don’t subscribe. I finally decided not to bother as there are numerous ancestors who have submitted the dates of their martiage for membership in DAR and SAR.

  • Terri
    October 18, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Thoughtful analysis should also be included in any ‘copying/sharing’ discussion. If folks would simply take the time to look at names/dates/locations, a whole lot of ‘bad’ information posting could be reduced if not eliminated.

  • Fran Vaughn
    October 17, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    I have seen mistakes in my family that others have put in. I try to put corrections in notes. I have found even with sources like death certificates, etc. that they are only as good as info given. My sons has him born in Montana (wrong), my gr. fathers has his mothers name given wrong, my gt. gr. mothers age was given wrong, so be sure to check other records so you can prove the correct info

  • Stacey Mitchell
    October 17, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    I did this when I first started. I ended up deleting an entire branch and starting over. I am using a private tree and researching everyone I can find with the Feritt (various spellings) last name, that are from Russia, Poland, Austria etc. in hopes of finding one relative.
    On my family tree that is public, I have started putting all sources in picture form, so others can check my research before they use it without going to other websites or accessing several links that they may not have access to.
    When I do a search and want to guess a date, I edit the search, not my tree.

  • Mel Bowers Kinnee
    October 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for reminding us all! I ran into this just a while ago….gr-gr-grandfather…..while searching around on FamilySearch, I came across some GREAT info that I didn’t have. The name matches, date of birth, place of birth, wife’s name (slight variance)……all looked so good. How could I be so lucky??!! When I looked for the contributer’s sources—-blank! Her research included 92,000+ people!! I’m glad I didn’t take it at face value……I would have filled up a tree a mile long…….all wrong! WHEW!

  • October 17, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Copying yes. Sharing? One of the biggest strengths we have today is the ability to collaborate.

  • Joanne
    October 17, 2015 at 7:51 am

    YES!!! One of the best explanations I’ve ever seen as to why you NEED to do your own research and cite your sources.Just hope that those who need to see this,do so and learn from it !

Leave a Response