10 Mistakes to Avoid when doing your Family Tree

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Everyone makes mistakes – even me!

1. Forgetting to record information on family history forms –

Organisation is key when doing your research. Either use standard genealogy forms, or chart your findings using appropriate software and keep it in one place. Always note the source!!!  Not only will this help you, but it will help your future generations carry on your work.

2. Not taking your ancestors’ siblings in to account –

Siblings can give you important family clues. When looking at a census for instance, you might find the parents of your ancestor living with one of their other children. This means you get the names of the parents, and potentially a new location – along with other members of that household. Researching siblings could lead to you finding a relative who is also doing research on your family. Keeping note of all the siblings in a household will also help assure you that you have the right family, especially if one of the members has an unusual first name.

3. Overlooking the maiden names of the females in your family –

It’s easy to think of our female ancestors by their married names, record the information, and then disregard their birth names. Birth names can provide a valuable clue for future research since some families use the mother’s maiden name as a middle name for the oldest male child, for instance. In one of my lines my Great Granny’s surname was Lowry. She gave this name as a middle name to almost all of her 9 sons. Even today one of her Great-Grandsons carry’s ‘Lowry’ as his middle name.

4. Assuming you are related to someone who was famous –

It is tempting for people with a family name such as ‘Watt’ to assume they are related to a James Watt the famous inventor.  Then, based upon that, they try to work from the famous person to themselves.  This is not a good research approach and is impossible to work with. ALWAYS start with yourself and work backwards, proving the connection between each generation.

5. Skipping a generation –

In lots of families, it’s very common to have the same name running through the male ancestors. This can easily trip you up if you’re not careful, leading you to list someone as the father when he is the grandfather. Record as many dates as you can and take careful note of things like place names to help avoid this happening. Don’t even get me started on my Great-Great Uncle Gerald, my Great Uncle Gerald, my Uncle Gerald and my two cousin Geralds.

6. Assuming your family name is spelt only one way –

Family names can be spelt in many different ways.  Our ancestors (and the people who recorded these events) were human and as such prone to mistakes!  Watt can be Watts, Watters can be Waters and Lowry can be Lowery. Make sure you check all the variations of your name just in case – although this is very tedious and time-consuming the results could make it worth the effort. One thing that could help save time during your searching is using the asterisk. Enter the surname as ‘Watt*’ and you’ll get occurrences of both Watts and Watters. ‘John*’ will bring back all surnames starting with John, such as Johns, Johnston, Johnstone.

7. The ever popular ‘jumping to conclusions’ –

Genealogy is all about information and proving that information is correct. Start your research with yourself and work backwards, one generation at a time. The key to success is to prove positive the link between the generations, and you can only reach a conclusion if you have enough evidence – make sure you record sources. Reaching a conclusion based upon incomplete evidence can throw your whole tree out.  I found a death record for a Frances Dillon wife of Joseph Dillon. Frances is my Great-Great Granny so I was thrilled…but I was also wrong. Who would have thought that Frances’ husband Joseph had a son from a previous marriage called Joseph and yes, he did…wait for it… marry a Frances. So the person I thought was my Great-Great Granny was actually her step-sons wife.

8. The Wrong Family –

Believe me this can happen very easily. If you jump to conclusions (mistake number 7) you can easily set off in completely the wrong direction. If you don’t look for name variances (mistake number 6) and end up researching many generations of the wrong family. Do not start working on the next generation of research unless you have concrete proof of a link – I know the temptation is strong to forge ahead but it may mean hours of work for no reason!

9. Taking information on an old Family Tree as fact –

While the internet is a wonderful aid to our research, it is a big tool to control and you should be wary of which sites you rely on. Think Wikipidea…people can post all kinds of things, that does not mean they are 100% true. Even the smallest piece of incorrect information, such as a wrong date or name posted on a forum could play havoc on a number of family researches. Be excited to find new information but only accept it after proving it.

10. Document, Document, Document –

The biggest mistake you can ever make is not documenting where you found your information. I know this because I was well in to my family research before I realized of it’s importance. I had put aside my research for a few years and picked it back up again. I am constantly trying to figure out where I found what and who told me what. Remember that your research is only part of a much larger body of information. You owe it to the future generations to be accurate. 

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