In 2009 I wrote a post entitled Genealogy: Taking Steps to Build a Family Tree. At the time I confessed that I had started my family tree and dove right in and added anyone who looked vaguely connected and didn’t bother with sources.
How stupid of me!
So with over 6,000 people in my tree, I started over. This time I did the research and sourced … every … single … detail. And if there was no source, it didn’t get added.
Now, in 2018, that same tree has just over 1,000 people. However, they are all sourced. And what I discovered is that some of those “sure things” that were added way back then, were not sure things at all. In fact, with the relevant research, I now KNOW that some of those people do NOT belong on my tree.
TIP: Do not, under any circumstances, believe the information you find on someone else’s family tree. Not until you have checked their sources (if they have them), and done the research yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I found information on another tree and when I’ve looked into the information I can prove that the information is incorrect.
For example, yesterday I noticed many family trees on Ancestry.com (and by many, I mean dozens) stated that my ancestor passed away in 1901. My records told me she passed away between 1901 and 1911. In effect, I could have agreed with the mass and added this information. But I didn’t do that. I checked their source, and they had sourced the burial for this person as 11 March 1901. Brilliant. I thought for a few moments I had discovered new information. However, the 1901 Census told me she was alive on 31 March 1901. She was with her husband and youngest child in the street they had lived in for many, many years.
My research then took me to the 1911 Census, where her husband was living with his grandson and his marital status was listed as “widower”. So, my person was alive on 31 March 1901 but had passed away by 2 April 1911. This proved to me that all those family trees on Ancestry are wrong! I continued my search. Using FreeBMD I did a search on deaths using my ancestors name and adjusting the date range from 1900 to 1912.
There were half a dozen possibilities. Two were in the area my family had lived all their life. But that doesn’t make the information conclusive. Luckily, the death details also provided the person’s age and as I had conclusive proof on when she was born, I could check the possibilities to see if any of them matched.
One did. And that one was in the area where they lived. I believe my ancestor passed away in 1909, not 1901 like all those other trees claim. I’ve added the information I found to my tree, but I will continue to research it as I want secondary proof so that I know without doubt that this entry is correct.
If you are stuck at a road block then it is okay to check what other people have included on their tree, but make sure you know it’s right before you add it to your own. Checking other people’s trees is a great way to get a clue that might set you off in the right direction, but don’t be lazy. Do the research.
Another tip is to actually look at the images you are using for your research. By this, I mean if you find your family in a Census record, check the neighbours on the same sheet as your family and on previous and following pages. The ancestor I previously discussed lived in the same street for three decades. When I checked the various Census records I had, I discovered that other family members did too! In fact, three households consisted of my family. I didn’t find them through normal searches, I discovered them by reading the images I was downloading and adding to my personal file. And from that information, I discovered all sorts of other information and family members.
And my final tips for today, is to search probate records. Often this source is overlooked, but it can give precious information. Or confirm information that you may already have. Remember how I said I’m going to research for secondary evidence for my ancestor? This is where I will start that research. Because often probate records will confirm the spouse’s name, the area they lived in and also provide a death date.
Some road blocks may never be resolved, as the information is unavailable at this time. However, as our world becomes more digital I believe the data will improve with time, so stay hopeful. In the meantime, keep searching and searching and build your tree. And then maybe one day, not too far into the future, that impossible road block will solve itself.