Relying on other people’s trees – Common genealogy mistakes


I found a fun video from Family History Fanatics
listing seven common genealogy mistakes. I’ve made every single one of these mistakes,
and developed some guidelines for avoiding them. In this video, I’ll cover the third mistake,
relying on other people’s trees, and share my principles for how I make use of other
trees on ancestry.com, familysearch.org, etc. I group all genealogical sources into three
types: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. Primary source documents are created contemporaneously with a given event. Those are the sources you really want to look for. Secondary source documents are detailed analyses
written after the event—sometimes centuries after—and are based on explicitly cited
primary source documents. Tertiary sources are summaries of family research
without supporting citations (or maybe just a few). Family trees on the web could be either secondary
or tertiary sources depending on whether they have citations,
but you should handle them exactly the same way: 1) Don’t cite other trees, use them
as roadmaps to do your own research. 2) When choosing a roadmap, look for ancestor
profiles with unique contributions and high fact counts. 3) Be careful who you trust: a high-quality researcher
may not have high quality research throughout their tree 4) A DNA match doesn’t prove your paper trail. First, the person who created the tree had
good intentions. They’re not lying, they’re not fabricating
facts out of thin air. They want to get this right. But they’re human, and they make honest
mistakes. One confusing record could have led them to
jump to conclusions, and the end result is an erroneous tree. Point is, examine their research, use it as
a roadmap. If they did it right, you can speed up your
work substantially. And if they made a mistake, maybe you can
catch it. Second, you’ll probably find a bunch of
profiles for your ancestor. Most of them will be nearly identical, because
people often just copy from other trees and move on. So just pick one tree profile as a roadmap. I prefer profiles that have high source count,
assuming they are primary sources. If I see lots of millennium file and American
genealogical biographical index records, I move on. If I see the genealogist added scanned images
of probate files or other primary source documents, that makes me feel I’ve got a solid roadmap. Third, once you’ve dug into your own tree
pretty deeply, you’ll find other researchers who consistently land quality work. Michelle Fury and Dan Perry are my favorites
for my mother’s family, and I hope others have come to rely on my research into the
Slough family in the 1700s and 1800s. Thing is, I know that my quality research
only applies to specific people and lines in my tree. Other parts of my tree? Not so much. Lots of fact copying with little more than
census records and find-a-grave sources. Point is, even when you trust the researcher,
you should examine their work on each profile. Final point, I see a lot of people claim that
their written-record-based genealogy is “confirmed by DNA” when they get a DNA match to someone
else with the same written-record-based genealogy. But you could both have the exact same error
in your trees. For example, I have this one family in my
wife’s tree that sprouted from a single guy in Jamestown, John Chew. Everyone has a record-based lineage that connects
my wife’s tree to John’s youngest son, but… the DNA matches before a particular
generation (about 1800) were all to people descending from the eldest son. Turns out the record-based lineage might be
wrong because in 1820, my wife’s fifth great uncle, Joseph Chew married a woman named Emily
Chew, and the record-based lineage was completely dependent on the assumption that Emily’s
maiden name was not Chew at all. You could also have a false positive—whether
it’s via a genetically isolated community sharing common indicators, or just by chance. And… let’s get real, hanky-panky wasn’t
invented in the past one hundred years. People have been sleeping around since before
some human came up with the idea of marriage. DNA matches are not infallible evidence of
a paper-and-pencil lineage.

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