7 Common Genealogy Research Mistakes to Avoid

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Guest Article by Lisa Lisson, Genealogist & Family Historian

Top Mistakes to Avoid When Researching Family's Genealogy

Genealogy is one of today’s fastest growing hobbies, but getting started can be a bit overwhelming. Those new to genealogy often make mistakes. (That’s okay!)  Let’s talk about some common mistakes genealogists often make. After all, no one wants to spend all their time researching  a family only to discover they have connected to the wrong family tree!

Top Mistakes to Avoid When Researching Your Family’s Genealogy

1. Researching without a plan.

What do you want to learn about your family? Decide what you want to know before your start your research. You will stay more focused and be more successful in your research.

2. Failing to ask what information your family already knows.

In my early research on the Howard line of NC, I dutifully tracked the Howards through the census records…..until I couldn’t. I lost the Howards. After much research I discovered the family’s surname was originally Harward. I had been searching under the wrong surname. Once this was determined, I was back on track. I excitedly shared this information with my family. Their response? “You didn’t know that?” This was apparently common knowledge among the older generations of the family. I had failed to gather what family members already knew about our family prior to beginning my research. Be more efficient in your research by finding out what is already known.

3. Assuming everything you need for your research is online.

It is NOT. This cannot be stressed enough. More and more records used in genealogy research are coming online. This is a great benefit to the genealogist. But….not everything you need to research your ancestors thoroughly or break down those brick walls will be found in the records online. The online records really are just the “tip of the iceberg.” You will need to utilize “offline” records in archives and court houses, etc.

4. Assuming the family tree containing your ancestors found online is correct.

Researchers are people, so mistakes and incorrect assumptions happen. Just because someone posted a family tree online does not make it correct. If you fail to confirm your ancestor in the tree with your own research, then a mistake can be copied over and over. Use the online family trees as clues, but do your own research.

5. Failing to be broad enough in the spellings (or misspellings) of surnames.

Spelling of names is extremely variable as you go further back in the records! Take the surname Howard. In the process of extensive research, I have found the name spelled 12 different ways! Imagine the spelling variations of a more complex surname.

Tip: Think of the various ways a name might be spelled phonetically.

6. Believing everything you read!

Does the information make sense? People who created the documents genealogists research were human and human errors certainly occurred in the records. For example: Is there a child attributed to parents, but the child’s birth date is before the mother’s birth date? Obviously, this would be incorrect. The child’s birth date is wrong or the child is attached to the wrong mother. Pay careful attention to what the document is saying. If the information does not make sense, research a little more.

7. Failing to cite your sources.

Even if you have no intentions of publishing your research, cite your sources! You will be able to go back to a source quickly for more information or confidently share the information with another family researcher. Tip: Cite your sources as you go.

I have made every one of these mistakes at some point in my research. I have also spent a lot of time correcting my mistakes. You do not have to!

Avoiding these genealogy research mistakes will help you become an efficient and accurate researcher. Are there any other mistakes you’d add to the list? 

About Lisa:

Lisa Lisson is a genealogist, blogger and Etsy-preneur who writes about her never-ending pursuit of ancestors, the “how” of genealogy research and the importance of sharing genealogy research with our families. Specializing in North Carolina and southern Virginia research, she also provides genealogical research services to clients. In researching her own family history, Lisa discovered a passion for oral history and its role in genealogy research.

When not tracking ancestors through the records, Lisa enjoys spending time with her husband and two “almost” grown children.

You can find Lisa online at LisaLisson.comTwitterPinterest, and her Etsy storeEsther’s Place – Heritage Inspired Gifts

This entry was originally posted by Crestleaf inGenealogy 101,Genealogy Tipsand taggedgenealogy mistakes,genealogy tipsonMay 6, 2015byMark S.Like what you read? Subscribe to the Genealogists.com blog above and automatically receive our next article.

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May 20, 2015
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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