Top 5 Mistakes Made by New Genealogists

Like many new genealogists, I made a lot of mistakes when I first began researching my genealogy. To help you avoid doing the same, I have come up with a list of the top 5 mistakes that new genealogists make.

5. Not Setting a Goal

Before you begin researching your family tree, it is important that you set a goal and stick with it. Choose one line of ancestors to research, and get all the information that you can about that particular family. When you hit a brick wall (and cannot locate any more information), move on to a new line. Trying to research multiple ancestral lines at once can become overwhelming and confusing.

4. Not Keeping a Research Log

A research log will help you keep track of the places you have obtained information from. It is beneficial to keep one for two reasons: to avoid looking for records in the same place twice, and to know where to look if there is ever a question about a record. You will want to track every place you get information from: town clerks, libraries, courthouses, the Internet, books, family members, and others.

3. Limiting the Spelling of Surnames

The spelling of surnames almost always changes over time. This could be due to a number of reasons, including illiteracy, a desire to have a “more American-sounding” name, or requirements set by the government (this is true for many ethnic groups, such as Armenians and Native Americans). For example, while researching my great-grandmother Baylaw’s lineage, I found that her father’s name was spelled “Balaw,” and her brother changed his name to “Bailey” (apparently to sound more American when he moved out west). An even earlier ancestor changed his name from “Beland” to “Balaw” when he migrated from Quebec to America. That’s four spellings of the same surname. It is likely that the surnames you begin to research will not remain the same as you go back in time.

2. Trusting Other Researcher’s Information

You may find other people who are researching the same ancestral line as you, but do not assume that the information is accurate, even if sources are included. Always confirm the information yourself. You may be surprised by how much information you find in other people’s family trees is incorrect.

1. Not Documenting Sources

Always, always, always document the sources where you obtain information. I cannot stress this enough. Including sources not only makes your information more credible to future generations, but it also allows you to go back and re-check a record in question.