Let’s be honest. We all make mistakes in our genealogy, whether it’s misreading a document or drawing an incorrect conclusion. But the mistakes in how we actually do our research can lead to bigger brick walls, fewer discoveries, and more frustration. Here are the 3 biggest mistakes in genealogy research.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 52
1. Trying to Take Research Too Far, Too Fast
Let’s say that you were going to drive from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. You plug your start and your destination into Google Maps and all the directions say are: “Turn left onto W. Temple Street. Your destination will be on the left.”
Not exactly the most helpful of directions.
Without any context other than the destination, the directions are useless. We need to know the road that we’re turning off of, how long we’re going to be on W. Temple before we get to the destination. And, by the way, how do we even get to Salt Lake City?! Our mapping program skipped some crucial steps, some signs that would point us in the right direction, signs that we need to get to where we want to go.
We do the same thing in our research. Take these examples:
- Finding an ancestor in Illinois in the 1920 census and it says he was born in Ireland — so you go looking in Irish records
- Identifying an ancestor as a married adult in the 1940 census and then looking for him as a child in the 1880 census
- Finding a new ancestor and immediately starting to look for that person’s parents, without knowing anything about that new ancestor besides his or her name
Just like we need more points on our map to make sure we’re in the right place, we need more information before we can really get from “here” to “there.” We have to know more about the ancestor than his or her name before we can make big leaps in our research. Check out this post to learn more about building your ancestor’s identity beyond the name.
2. Stopping Too Soon
It’s exciting when you find a record that identifies a new ancestor. However, we shouldn’t let that excitement cloud our judgment. Sure, we found a record that names a new ancestor… but is that record right?
Do we understand that record? What problems are there with it in terms of accuracy? How does it fit in with what we already have?
We have to evaluate what we’re using, rather than just assume that it’s correct. Check out this post to learn more about evaluating sources, information, and evidence.
3. Skimming for Facts
There’s a Law of Research (kind of like Murphy’s Law) that says the longer and more difficult a document is to read, the less likely it is that a researcher will read the whole thing.
Wills, land records, pension records, and court records are great resources for our genealogy research, but we only get the full benefit of them if we actually read them. When we just skim through the document looking for specific facts, we lose not only the context of those facts, but we miss out on a lot of detail that could be helpful to our research.
When you’re looking at a deed, did you notice how much the land was being sold for? Token amounts of consideration are a clue that there’s a relationship between the grantor (seller) and the grantee (buyer). Did you notice who was the executor of a will or who were the witnesses? They could be related to the deceased.
Family History Is a Journey, Not a Race
These 3 mistakes have something in common: Speed. We get excited about a new discovery that we want to zoom ahead to the next one. Ironically, we can make more discoveries when we slow down.