Don’t Believe Everything That’s Tree’d

One of my goals for this blog is to share best practices and lessons learned (mistakes made).  My biggest mistake and probably the most reoccurring issue in genealogy, was copying trees and accepting them as fact.  With the initial excitement of finding new details and connections, checking sources was not on my mind.

I don’t remember exactly why, but one day I signed up for Ancestry.com.  As prompted, I entered in all the information I knew of my parents and grandparents.  Voila!  A magical little leaf appeared leading me to more ancestors.  I was clicking “review hint” and “save to tree” faster than you can say Jack Robinson.  Days of this mass addition of information went on when finally, I stumbled across a surprising detail.  What a glorious discovery, a great grandfather of mine served in the Revolutionary War!  It had never even occurred to me that my American roots could go back that far.

Before emailing my family of this wonderful discovery, I figured I’d better double check it first.  I quickly came to the realization that Ancestry.com has a variety of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and each of these needs to be scrutinized. This was the moment that genealogy became an obsession for me.  I was completely enthralled in sorting through the details and accumulating as many legitimate sources as possible.  I spent a lot of time deleting incorrect data that I had copied in the previous week.

But many years later, I still come across details in my ancestry.com tree that make no sense – all because of that first week I was blindly copying other trees.

The worst was when I noticed some of my extended cousins copying my incorrect info.  For a while after that I made my tree private to give me time to source everything, but the damage was already done.  Nowadays, my tree is public and only a few things are total guesses and inferences.  I just hope that no one takes it as something set in stone.

So, don’t blindly copy other people’s trees without inspecting the sources!

A few things to consider –

  • Records are fun to read!  Call me crazy, but I love finding out the cause of death, looking up the address on google maps to see if the house still exists, tracking the occupation changes over the course of a lifetime, and so much more.
  • Stories, memories, and histories are also fun and offer a sense of identity and culture, but more often than not, they’re embellished (sorry).  And these stories don’t have any secrets.  When you skip over records, you’re really missing out.
  • Connecting and collaborating with other genealogists, 3rd and 4th cousins, is one of the best parts of genealogy.  If you notice someone has a lot of shared ancestors as you, reach out to them!
  • Here’s an intro to the types of records/sources and level of reliability for each one – Genealogy for Dummies, Types of Sources.
  • If you’re on Ancestry.com, go to “site preferences” and uncheck “Display Ancestry Member Tree Hints.”  This will massively help to declutter your research.  You can always filter a search to show family trees, but honestly, you probably don’t need them.

 

Original Post: July 16, 2011

Edited and Updated: July 18, 2018

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