errormessageGenealogists are human. They will make mistakes. But there are mistakes that result from honest errors and careless typing and there are mistakes that simply defy logic and reasoning.

We’ve all seen them and some of us allow our blood pressure to become raised by their very presence:

  • People having children in the 1700s when those people died in the 1600s.
  • People reproducing at the age of five.
  • People having children for a ninety-year time period.
  • Geographic locations that merge places on multiple continents.
  • Ninety year old men actively serving in battle
  • etc.

It would seem that the online tree creation sites could include some programming code to prevent such mistakes from being uploaded or at least to require the compiler to acknowledge the woefully inaccurate nature of such information. They could use a nicer error message than the image included in this post. Most of the mistakes mentioned result from “file merging” and “people merging” where the matches are not closely monitored by the user and the process has been automated. Some of these mistakes simply result from careless research. A few of these mistakes  result from typographical errors. Some of these mistakes defy logic including how one person took a small village in northern Germany and moved it to Nova Scotia. Trying to understand some mistakes is a never-ending rabbit hole I prefer not to enter.

The easiest way for the researcher to reduce the chance of making errors of this type is to think and critically analyze information as research is conducted. It is to think and critically analyze information as it is compiled to create a “person.” It is to think and critically analyze information as it is compiled into a family group and it is to think and critically analyze information as it is entered into a genealogical database. It’s also helpful to draw out family relationships on paper and type up conclusions in a free-flowing paragraph format before data entry is started.

There’s a key here:

think and analyze

I really don’t care if you can quote the Genealogical Proof Standard or not. I really don’t care if you know what a “reasonably exhaustive search” is or not. If you think as you research, analyze what you find, are willing to learn, and are willing to admit you might have made a mistake, that’s a huge step in the direction of documenting your ancestors in the way they deserve to be documented. And chances are if you’re serious about those steps you’re probably already on your way to performing research consistent with those standards anyway.

And isn’t telling your ancestor’s story honestly what they deserve.

Let’s leave the babies after death and 100-year old men serving in the war to the zombie and vampire movies. That’s where they belong.

Note: That’s me in the picture. I’m standing in a manure wagon. I’ll let readers draw any comments from that on their own. Here’s some thoughts on “Proving Genealogical Proof.”






11 Responses

  1. Great Article.

    It has been my experience though . . .

    several genealogy software programs and have a flag error message to alert the user to possible error – ie; parent born after a child’s birth; a parent or child born in a completely different century, etc.

    However it has also been my experience, as a member of several online genealogy facebook groups, that some simply do not care. They want the information entered exactly as they’ve done so. It has been my experience, because these folks are very vocal about feeling this way.

    And, too, it has been my experience as a member of the above mentioned groups that many feel that it is their tree and that they should be able to grow it – even with incorrect information -they want to. It is certainly their right, their tree. However, they refuse to entertain or recognize that they are not the only descendent that may be researching their ancestor, and incorrect information caused by data entry error or otherwise, is promulgated exponentially each time an equally excited and inattentive descendent copies their information without the critical analysis that you encourage here.

    • True. I laugh when people nrefuse to share as if they own things. Surely they realize it’s all public record. I share what I find with anyone interested. I’ve purposefully shared things I knew others refused to .. to as many as possible. Anyone related that’s interested I love giving them the knowledge.

    • Thanks for your comments. Those are valid points–and I think I removed the paragraph to which you were referring. If not, please let me know. Thanks.

  2. Michael,

    Great article! I’ve found several errors on my tree in Ancestry. Biggest problem is that Ancestry makes is easier to add mistakes than to delete them.


    PS I appreciate all of your hard work and willingness to share.

  3. I recently found a tree on line (not at ancestry) where the author was so pleased to be as far back as Noah. The reason I looked at that tree in the first place was because it included my 3x grandfather. Unfortunately, that person has added children that do not belong, mother was b. 1820, first child born 1818? In actuality the husband died 1834 and the mother had a second marriage and died 1864. This tree shows her married to her first husband and living in a totally different state in 1870. There is always more than one Eperdink Humperkink and they all married a woman named Samantha Smith! To add insult to injury, 7 other people copied that tree.

    • isn’t the only place where trees of that kind manage to find their way. And once the copying has started it can be difficult to stop it.

  4. I absolutely love your message and I join you in wishing we could do that. The thing I love most about you is your sense of humor.

    • I try to be funny (grin!). Although some times it doesn’t come across quite as well as I wish it would.

  5. I think my worst experience was with a gentleman that had the wrong parents for the kids and refused to accept it. Even after we sent him indisputable documentation that proved his information was incorrect and we were very polite in asking him to correct it. He had several people that had copied him word for word. We sent them the documentation as well and some made the changes, some didn’t.

    He was furious and was rude and at times nasty, until we finally gave up trying to convince him. He had gotten the information from someone else that he considered to be the “best ever researcher”. We even sent him an email where she agreed she had made a mistake. Of course, she didn’t change her tree though. It can be so frustrating !!

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