I’ve redacted the identifying information from this “facts” posting in a tree at Ancestry.com.

The frustrating thing is that there are errors in this tree. Not just dates or locations slightly off, but a child the person did not have. There is also a place of birth on the wrong side of the ocean, a marriage and a divorce that did not take place, and a residence location nearly fifty years after the person died and nearly one hundred and twenty-five years after they were born.

That residence was not the cemetery where the ancestor is buried. It’s over eight hundred miles away.

This is a person whose life during 1849 through 1903 I have researched fairly extensively. She is not an ancestor I just discovered last week. There are a variety of records on her during the 1849 through 1903 time period and they paint a consistent picture of her life.

And, according to this “facts” page, my ancestor had a child before she was born.

Without going into details, what apparently happened is that another researcher assumed the maiden name of this ancestor was not her maiden name but instead was the surname of her first husband.

A husband I did not know about and with whom my ancestor had a child before she was actually born.

I’m as certain as one can be in genealogical research that the husband this ancestor married in 1849 was her first husband. That’s because the last name for her on that 1849 marriage record matches the last name she gives for her father in a later marriage record.

The “facts” page gives a completely different maiden name for this ancestor. And that’s a name that absolutely no record on this person between 1849 and 1903 gives. Not even close. It’s a name that is so phonetically different from Barbara’s maiden name in the 1849 marriage record that a case simply can’t be made for the last names being “close enough.”

I’ve given up on expecting Ancestry.com to force people to look at information in trees that is obviously incorrect. The cynic in me is firmly convinced that the philosophy at Ancestry.com is that the more trees that are on the site, the better. The more stuff paying customers have to wade through (or are willing to wade through), the longer they will be paying subscribers.

The submitter of this tree has this same information in at least three trees on the Ancestry.com site. Unfortunately researchers who go with the “majority rules” theory will conclude that the information is correct. There’s not much I can do about that.

And, I can’t force someone to correct their tree. It’s just not possible. I also can’t play the genealogy police and contact every person whose tree has a mistake. That’s a losing battle and takes time away from actual research.

What I can do is have my tree (if I choose to have one on Ancestry.com) be as correct as I can make it. I can create blog posts with the correct information in hopes that researchers will find it. If I ever get the time, I can even publish my findings in some print form.

This ancestor’s life deserves to be told as accurately as possible.

And I can keep mentioning and writing about the importance of being as careful as one can when compiling information.




38 Responses

  1. I had something similar with Ancestry. I found an ancestor with her parents listed on several trees; one had different parents. I had them both -in pencil.
    Dad and I were able to visit the old family area and we went to the court house. and found the marriage record. The lone dissenter was correct.

    I notified several people of my find and ave them a copy of the marriage record. One woman replied “my Grandma told me this!”- and blocked me.

    • I was able to prove that the child an aunt had before marriage was not her husbands, even though they married a few years later. A newspaper account names the actual father and the husband’s estate settlement does not list the child as his. The incorrect parentage is likely to keep floating around on the internet.

    • There is a person who is claiming relationship in my tree that is so obviously NOT a relative. I checked her tree and she is claiming over 5,000 people–even some royalty. She has put false info on my father, grandfather and grandmother. I have contacted her and she refuses to change anything saying I am wrong about my own father–egad. The “help” on Ancestry does not help with situations like this. I think if a person is reported abusing something should be done.

      • I’ve got one of those, too. My gggrandmother had her when she was 10 years old. This new child lived in Michigan her whole life while the rest of the family were gypsies moving every two years between Canada and the U.S. I’ve explained and explained. The odd child is still a member of my gggrandparent’s family. The thing is, now this person has a pedigree for her ancestor that is totally false. None of the people she claims as family are related to her. Her real ancestors are “out there” somewhere. If she would get into DNA someday, she’s really going to be in for a surprise.

  2. I have been on Ancestry for eight years. This latest update of their format is incorrect, hard to follow, and I print my pages out. What used to take 1-2 pages now prints out 4-5 pages. It’s wasteful. Yesterday I was checking information on an individual born 1728. Ancestry facts state children were born late 1800’s. I have written proof they were born 1750 thru 1764. I am considering leaving Ancestry and going eksewhere. Takes alot of money to receive false information.

    • I only use the trees compiled by others sparingly, when I’m working on a new person or “really stuck” and want to see if someone else has stumbled on something. My personal use of Ancestry.com is really limited to other databases or digital images that I can’t get elsewhere.

    • You are absolutely correct on this. The update on Ancestry is horrible. I, too, complained but they haven’t changed anything and now we can’t even go back and use the old system. Evidently the people who dreamed up this change never use the sight to print things out. Such a waste of ink and paper for us. Ancestry listens to it’s premium payers about as good as the government does.

      • If they allow copy and paste, that would be a way to edit out the wasteful spaces. I quit ancestry a number of years ago because they wouldn’t edit/up date wrong info. I will never pay them again for things that are available free at the local library.
        No info is worth their outrageous prices.

  3. It is ridiculous that Ancestry allows sources to be another Ancestry tree. However, I know they won’t change that. I agree that if you have the time and inclination, then post a comment giving the correct info and identify your source, i.e., a real record.

  4. have attempted several times to correct what I can prove is wrong information, My solution was to make my tree private. Now I respond to researchers who can connect other than with the same name. I resent “researchers” who attach my hours of research to their tree simply because the names are the same. I know when my grandfather died and where he was buried and who he married!

    • A distant cousin of mine published a “family genealogy” changing my grandfather, Frank, and calling him “Franklin” and giving him a middle name that he never had. When I called this distant cousin of mine, several years ago, asking her where she got the name “Franklin” for my grandfather, she said, simply, “Everyone knows that Frank is short for Franklin!”

      Enough said. I knew my grandfather and *NEVER* knew him to use the name Franklin, or sign any document as “Franklin”. His death cert calls him Frank, his obit calls him Frank, he is Frank in all the census records and his marriage cert, he used the name Frank. I have found him in land records, both selling and buying land, all with the name Frank.

      I guess we can never change what other people think.


      • We have at least 3 Frank’s in the family and none of them are known as Franklin either. Very frustrating when people assume and wont listen to reason! Good luck! We feel your pain!

    • My favorite is when they “borrow” a picture and state it is “theirs” as if they took the picture. I have a picture of my Grandmother and Aunt in my house and some guy took it and put it on his site and claimed he took the picture ! I guess he’s a way distant cousin, but geeze, give credit where credit is due ! No one in my family even knows who he is !

      • I had that happen. I put my father’s family photos on our Ancestry “McNutt” family tree I make my trees public so other’s can share and use the photos or materials that Dad and I have discovered. Maybe we’ll meet some family that way. But, some woman on Ancestry appropriated Dad’s family photos and then proceeded to write to my father and offer to him! I wrote to her and let her know that these were posted by us in our tree originally. There is going to be twits everywhere. And we can’t fix all of them.

    • I do exactly the opposite to you. All my well researched trees are public.

      My handle is a near version of my name. Everything I am doing is cousin-bait. If I can connect with unknown distant cousins, then I am very happy.

      Via my wife’s interesting Prussian-Ohian-Ecuadorean- Canadian, we have connected with numeroous cousin lines in far-flung countires. Their ancestors emigrated separately from Prussia going to varied countries.

      If I could just connect just one ancient Galician cousin line, I would be tremendously excited.

  5. Is there a way to delete a tree on Ancestry. I know my first tree has mistakes and I have not added to it for years. I would like to remove the whole tree. I haven’t searched for a way to do this, so I am not sure if it is even possible.

    • Yes, you can easily delete an old tree on Ancestry. Open the tree, go to tree settings, and there is a delete tree way down at the bottom.
      I think you just leave a note with citation on trees that are wrong and go on with your life. Many of these trees aren’t used seriously or at all. If they care, they will read the note. If not, it’s not worth getting exercised about. Obviously, you never take info from another tree without proof but trees can give you clues and a direction to pursue. I’ll take that.

      • I think you have to have a current subscription to Ancestry, though, don’t you, in order to delete your old tree? For example, let’s say you were a subscriber 5 years ago and put a tree up, but after a year or two, decided not to renew your subscription. Here you are 5 years later, no longer a subscriber, and realize that your tree has issues… I don’t think you can delete it, can you, without renewing?


        • You can still go into your trees without a subscription to make changes and additions and you can delete your tree. You can also make it private and unsearchable.

  6. I think this is a major problem for Ancestry. They attract new people, but don’t help them when they start a tree so they don’t learn how to evaluate information in databases or, particularly, trees.

    • This is true. It’s easy to bring new customers in. Helping some of them to make the best use of what they are finding is another matter.

      • When I first started researching my family history, I admit. I was one of those that copied info from other trees. After about 2 months I realized I had a 3X Great Grandmother born the same year she married. I’ve since deleted that tree and started over. Now I just look at some of the trees to see if they match my own research, and if not, I will look further into their trees and 9 times out of 10 they have no documentation.

  7. I agree that there are mistakes on family trees found on Ancestry. There are a couple family trees out there, with my family lines, that have obvious mistakes. Notifying the tree owners resulted in either no response or responses along the lines of “it is too much trouble to correct it.” I guess the electronic version of “penciled in” along with a good tracing reference might be the best action. Sometimes that bit of information which is counter to conventional wisdom, just works out

  8. While it’s frustrating to see people with incorrect information in their trees, it’s not something to get your panties in a knot over. It’s not YOUR tree, so why do you even care? Use their information or not, it’s up to you. I think it’s great that Ancestry lets you share information from tree to tree, but it’s up to you to be careful about what you accept or not. Personally, unless there is solid documentation to support a fact, I don’t accept it and even if there is documentation, I am still skeptical. This is not an Ancestry problem; this is a user problem.

    • Thank you for your article. I have encountered many rude people about information. I welcome comments, however if they are rude I block them. Yes I made mistakes and have tried to correct my mistakes. It is a choice and a learning adventure.

  9. Although I try to be as accurate as possible, I know I have mistakes in my tree. What Ancestry really needs is the ability to put a note with any fact you have. So, that you can say, this is a working theory- need more research; not convinced this is accurate, but adding it here for fact checking. Adding a comment doesn’t attach to the specific fact! It would be nice if Ancestry also had a better mechanism than the shoebox to store documents you need to review. I’d love to be able to shoebox to an individual. Maybe a separate tab. I use desktop genealogy software, but HATE the antiquated design and tedious, slow process. I know I need it, but really prefer the online services.

    I also know that some people keep their trees private so errors don’t show. I don’t, even if people are offended with my errors. Here is why… Genealogy is its most fascinating with collaboration. I have managed to find my adopted great-grandmother’s birth parents with the help of DNA and other people’s trees. Neither alone would have done the job. Nor, would it have been productive to contact every person with a private tree just to try to determine if maybe this person might be the one and same. A lot of them won’t return messages either!

    So, as I look at it, the other trees, even with errors, are a source to consider. My job as a genealogist to research, confirm, and apply the genealogical proof standard. It’s really no different than doing an exhaustive search at a library and not finding what you are looking for. Have I been frustrated when I contact people and ask…do you have a source for X being the maiden name for Y’s mother, and getting the “no, I just assumed because one of the children’s middle names was that”, absolutely. As a genealogist, I want others to be as conscientious as I try to be. But ultimately, that is on them, not me.

  10. These days, I rarely cite another’s tree unless I can verify their information elsewhere. I have taken time to ‘ask’ some people where they have their “birth of child before birth of parent” and have had very limited success. Before Ancestry, I (my mother) had a lot of inconsistent information which I have worked at to clarify/correct.
    Most of my citations are of records. yet there is still the chance that what I cite is wrong, unfortunately its part of the process. But I do try, and if you were to tell me I was wrong, I would look into and hopefully prove either yours or mine.

  11. I have 2 cousins named William, whose fathers were brothers. One in TN and the other in KY.T he one in TN was born in 1803, no marriage record has been found. The one in KY was born in 1817, and have found his marriage record. Both women have the same nickname of Dolly. The older William can be followed by other records in IL , .The younger one married in Todd Co, KY, and be found in the 1850 cesus. Ok, here is my point…LDS records and researchers have these two mixed up, with the wife of the younger William married to the older William. There is no way to change this, so I leave notes whenever possible.

  12. I can not say enough about this issue. But it all comes down to Research, Research, Research! Even if your family member told you the facts as they know it. Still research it. NEVER trust that someone’s tree or facts are correct, Research it. Stories and facts have a way of being wrong or mixed up over the years. Love the information for what it is…. a starting point for your research, not as a fact to be recorded and assumed right.

  13. An individual placed a tree on the internet (not in Ancestry) some years ago showing my mother with 3 husbands; 1)my father with his first name 2) my father with his middle name and 3) my husband’s name. When I questioned the tree, they wrote my back with comments that should not repeated in polite company.

  14. I have encountered a problem with a family tree I started on Geni.com. Why haven’t I fixed it? Well, I’ve been afraid to ‘fix it’ in case I lose information—-too much info to hand copy or print out. In my situation, my tree was joined with the tree of a distant cousin who had wrong info. This wrong info cause the family line to be off by one generation and has created a domino effect of problems for me. Once I figure out how to do it right, I will fix what I can. I just hope no one else is using the bad info—but what can I do?
    I just realized last night that my tree (although open only to immediate family) can be accessed with a google search if you have the right name. So I doubt making a tree ‘private’ will help at all. Like its been said—gather info, but research and confirm everything yourself.

    • Surely you can download a GEDCOM from Geni.com. Then you will have a copy of your tree you can load into another program or upload to Ancestry and make it private.

  15. On my tree I have my grandfather’s birth & death certificates as well as his marriage certificate to my Nana.I also have every census that has him recorded and directory records too.One day while searching family trees,I came upon one with his name.I opened it and saw that the owner had copied my grandfather’s birth certificate and placed it in her tree.She also copied the census records of him as a child.The reason as far as I can tell that she didn’t copy his marriage & death certificates,is because she had him married to her grandmother down South.I contacted her and explained to her that he wasn’t her grandfather,just a fellow with the same first and very common last name.She got very defensive and told me I was wrong and not to contact her again!

    • A woman downloaded all my photos and documentation for one branch of my family, then uploaded it to the people she had used the add to my tree button so it looked like all the documentation originated from her. Some of the photos are not on the right people. If anyone contacts her for more information, she won’t know and they won’t know to contact me. And then I made my tree private, unsearchable.

  16. I made my tree private after a nice person from New Zealand whose roots, like mine, are in Ireland, put my Belfast-born (& lived & died) grgrgrandfather (whom my mother & grandmother knew, in Ireland!) into their tree–even tho they were from the middle of Ireland, nowhere NEAR Belfast, and ALL of that family emigrated to NZ. It would have been wonderful to be related to this person as they had lots of history on their family in NZ. But just because their relative’s name matched my grgrgrandfather & he lived at the same time as when the family moved to NZ doesn’t make him a relative!!! She contacted me, very nicely to offer the NZ history, but I pointed out, nicely, that I had no proof that my Belfast born & raised grgrgrandfather was connected to their family, and asked if she did. She never answered back–but hasn’t changed her tree. Sigh. She took his picture, too, and put it in his tree.

  17. At the very least, Ancestry shouldn’t allow a child’s birthdate to be before his mother was born or old enough to have children and certainly nothing after the death date unless it is a burial or some kind of probate record. It might at least make some people think about the logic of what they’re entering.
    I never use other people’s trees except for clues of where to look next when I’m stuck.

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