Top Ten Genealogy Research Mistakes

Serenah McKay
Stressed woman on computer

One of the great things about genealogy is you don't have to be an expert to enjoy it. In addition to the many wonderful free genealogy websites, you'll find some great tutorials for beginning your family history research. However, there are also some potential pitfalls for both new and experienced genealogists. As you begin or continue your research, avoid these common mistakes.

1. Climbing the Wrong Tree

Before you begin your family tree, make sure you have correct starting information. Use multiple sources to check the names and dates for your grandparents and great-grandparents. Building a family history is like building a home, and your nearest relatives are the foundation. Your foundation needs to be solid for the rest of your research to stand firm.

2. Not Asking Questions

Many people regret not asking older relatives about their lives. If you have living grandparents, great-grandparents, or aunts and uncles, ask them about their early life experiences. Several excellent guides for conducting oral history interviews are available online. Record as much of this information as you can, either by using a video camera or taking detailed notes. Years from now, you'll thank yourself for preserving this part of your family's history.

3. Believing Family Legends

It's important to record the oral history of your family, but it's also a good idea to check out the facts. Remember the children's game of "Telephone?" Family legends can be similarly transformed as they are passed down through the generations. There is probably a kernel of truth to most of your family stories, but it's best to corroborate the information independently.

4. Neglecting to Record Sources

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of discovering new information. As you rush from record to record, you may take haphazard notes and miss some sources. However, it's important to record detailed information about your sources. Solid sources are what make your genealogy credible. The added bonuses are that you know your work is accurate, and your great-grandchildren can appreciate having the source.

5. Losing Your Focus

Anyone who has started a family history research project can tell you it can get quite massive pretty quickly. With each generation, you'll have more branches you can follow. To avoid getting overwhelmed, pick a goal. Concentrate on one branch of your family at a time. When you've reached a dead end, go back to another branch. Your genealogy project will be a lot more fun this way!

6. Being a Stickler for Spelling

You've probably heard the stories of family names being changed when people immigrated to America. In fact, family names were changed all the time. Census records are known for misspellings since the census taker often didn't confirm spelling with the family. As you do your research, make sure you try multiple spellings of each last name. You'll have more search results that don't apply, but sometimes this is the only way to find important records.

Two girls and a dog go by rail

7. Skipping Generations

As you record family members, you're bound to come to a brick wall at some point. You may see that another individual appears to be a parent or sibling of your mystery ancestor. Don't be tempted to record this information without data that clearly connects the two individuals. Doing this can quickly lead you down the wrong path, causing you to and waste time and energy.

8. Keeping Only One Copy

Whether you store your records on the computer or in hard copy format, you to keep back-up copies of all your information. No matter how careful you are, disasters can happen, and unfortunately, losing your information usually means starting at the beginning. Have at least two copies of your work at all times.

9. Blindly Trusting Others' Research

The internet is great for genealogy enthusiasts. You can collaborate with other long-lost family members, combining your research efforts and helping each other fill in the blanks in your family trees. However, keep in mind that not everyone has high genealogy research standards. If other researchers don't have clearly recorded sources, it's best not to trust their work explicitly. Even if you do see sources, it pays to double-check the accuracy of the information.

10. Overlooking the Human Side

Genealogists deal in facts. You start with a few pieces of information, and from that, you are able to gather hundreds of names, dates and places for your family history. It's easy to get bogged down in all these facts. However, remember the human side of your research. Think about how your ancestors felt, lived and worked. Use the information you know to create a real history for your family.

What Else You Should Know

Don't feel bad if you've made any of these common blunders. You are in good company, and your expertise will grow as you gain experience. Genealogy is a wonderful hobby, and by avoiding these mistakes, you'll create a family history you can pass down to future generations.

Top Ten Genealogy Research Mistakes