A Little Advice About Sources and Genealogy

old photo of a boy Be careful where you get your information from when you are working on genealogy! Not all source material has the same validity. The wealth of resources available on the internet can both help, and harm, your genealogy research. Paying attention can help you to avoid incorporating mistakes into your family tree.

A recent article in the Citizen Times notes the dangers of believing everything you see on the internet, especially when it involves genealogy. You don’t want to accidentally pick up incorrect information about your family tree. This can happen when you are reading a personal blog of another genealogist, and using his or her research as a source for your own research. What if that person made a mistake?

Let’s say, for example, your research has led you to discover a distant ancestor named George Smith. You read on this unknown genealogist’s blog that he also has a distant relative named George Smith. You compare information, such as birthday, day of death, and the name of the town where George lived. From this information, you decide that you, and the genealogy blogger, are actually related to each other. This might lead you to adding their research to your own family tree. You are basically taking their word that this information is correct, and not taking the time to verify it with any other, more reliable, sources. What if the genealogy blogger made a mistake, and his relative wasn’t George Smith, but was Georgina Smith? Or, what if he made a typo while blogging, and got the birth year wrong? Suddenly, it turns out that you aren’t related to the genealogy blogger after all. You now need to go untangle your family tree.

Many people who are working on the genealogy of their family will use popular websites that allow access to a variety of archives and records. One of the beneficial things about the amount of information that can be found online is the ability to sort through these kinds of records. Be careful if the same website allows people to upload their own genealogy research into the main database, because this can lead to incorrect information as well. What if our genealogy blogger decided to take the information he blogged about, and add it to one of these well known websites? Now, we have the possibility of incorrect information being passed along as if it were truth. The fact that it can be found on a well known genealogy website makes people think that it automatically must be correct. This isn’t always the case.

In order to get the most accurate information, you need to check your research against reliable sources. Try looking for the information in census records, or national archives. Taking the time to check source material for validity may seem tedious, but is important. It can help you avoid adding an accidental George to your family tree.

Image by Janet on Flickr