top of page

Subscribe for Updates

Congrats! You’re subscribed

Family Trees are Not Historical Records

Common Genealogy Just Ask Question:


“I just started my family history, and everything I found was wrong. What do I do?”


Are you looking at the family tree?

You can find historical records at Research Wiki.

Go to Research Wiki, and look up county/parish, state.

It can be overwhelming to keep focused while searching online genealogical websites for historical records to document your ancestor. No, an online family tree is not a historical record, even though many beginners are preoccupied with family trees to identify ancestors. Trees can provide valuable hints, but the digitized versions of the original records on genealogical websites should be the real meat in your search. If you build your family tree without historical records, your family tree will not have reliable places, events, and dates. Your family tree will have about as much use as the limb on the previous page.

Keep the following tips foremost in mind, and the time you spend searching online will be well spent. Begin by building your online tree. Add what you already have and what your family can share with you with you: photos, documents, stories, etc.

Searching collections

Collections that are available on the website you choose for the area where your ancestor lived. You will become familiar with the different collections that exist in the time periods they cover, and you will plant those collections in the back of your mind as you anticipate which records will surface in a search. Often is more beneficial to search for an individual collection instead of searching an enormous host of records from the main page. Compare different collections from genealogical databases. A few popular websites are,,, and

Search for historical records from your ancestors record on the family tree. Most have the feature that allows you to search the historical records from an individual's record on the family tree. This is a wonderful way to filter out unnecessary results.

Attach records

Attach records that mention your ancestors to the tree that you are building. By attaching the records, you find you will improve the accuracy

of the records suggested and find documentation quickly.

As you discover historical records, be sure to attach them to the trees of other family members mentioned in a record. This will help you become familiar with parents, siblings, children, and spouses that you may not have known personally.

After discovering as much as you can for one ancestor, visit other websites that offer historical records. Create new sources for those records on the tree that you are building.

Consult other family trees last

Exhaust historical record collections online, begin to search for other sources attached to your ancestor on other online trees. Discover photos, stories or records that are not available online. More often than you realize, you will have the most documentation cited. After you have exhausted your search, consulting other trees will ensure that you will never be confused by conflicting details from another tree. Share the URL for each record that you complete. Be sure to share the places you find your family whether it be Facebook or e-mail.

Research your ancestor’s entire family in the way described above before going on to research their parents. Sometimes it takes getting to know an entire family group through available documents before you can discover more about the preceding generation.

Check website updates and new collections regularly. Once you exhaust records available and online databases then learn about resources in archives and local repositories by visiting the Research Wiki or Ancestry’s Wiki.

Avoiding the weak limb on a family tree

The most popular database on is a public member tree with voluminous records. That is enough to make one concerned about the value of a member tree. Finding another person's family tree is like a child being let loose in a candy store to those new to research. The more seasoned researcher knows this: A family tree with no sources is like a diet with only sugar and no substance to sustain life. Therefore, a family tree with no sources ought to have a flashing red sign: “Researcher Beware.”

Trees with no sources

Finding trees is relatively easier than taking the extra effort to dig deeper or order a resource that is not online. It may even be thrilling to find someone else that has your ancestor on a tree, but what good is finding your ancestor on a tree with no proof of family relationship? Taking unproven information into your tree is like scooting out on the weakest limb.

It does not take much time to assuming ancestors and using undocumented trees, but you are sure to reach the end of the line ancestor somewhere. When there is no tree to document the next generation, people usually are forced to consult historical records. This is when the limb breaks because nothing jives in the records. That leaves you forced to start over with what you can document, and that has more validity.

Use documentation

Brick walls do not just show up in your path. Instead, you build them around your ancestor by following undocumented paths. If you have climbed your tree a few generations back without solid sources, you risk placing the wrong ancestor in the tree and wasting a lot of time.

Here is an example of research results achieved using documentation:

The oral history that you can gather can be vital in providing clues to help you document your ancestors. Of course, you should make every attempt to prove the information you are given and not to accept it verbatim. This is one case where the family oral history left out an ancestor and it was discovered using a unique record.

Same names

George Anderson Tucker (1827-1860) was father of George Epps Tucker (1859 – 1927) was father of George Anderson Tucker (1882-1932)

Naming patterns in a family can make it very difficult to distinguish one ancestor from another, and you must rely heavily on historical information. You do not know beforehand many times if enough resources exist.

The Tucker descendants were under the impression that the father of George Epps Tucker (1859 – 1927) of Carlisle, Union County, South Carolina was James Anderson Tucker (1801 -1885). At the time, I was relatively new.

Proving oral history

The 1880 Census you find George Epps Tucker, 21, in the household with James Anderson Tucker, a 78-year-old widower. The US Census does not provide the relationships to the head of household. Also, living there was George B. Tucker who was the brother of James.

Identifying other record types

Whenever there is a question as to who the father is, I know it could be answered by searching for a historical record. It was necessary to identify other record types that could shed more light. A visit to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and a search among the probate index for Union County led to a reference to James A. Tucker. The record that opened the door to future information turned out to be the guardianship request by James A. Tucker for the son of George A. Tucker, dated 1871.

James A. Tucker requested guardianship of George Epps Tucker. This is the same George found living with him in 1880. George's parents were George A. and Annie Tucker. After the death of George, Annie Tucker had married William F. Holmes.

Guardianship of George Epps Tucker:

James A. Tucker was the grandfather of George Epps Tucker. A lot more details were gleaned from using this record than from relying on what my family had come to believe.


Recent Posts
Robin R. Foster
Robin R. Foster
Front cover Draft (2).jpg
My Best Genealogy Tips Its Time to Start - eBook.jpg
ebook cover (1).jpg
Prayer Journal 1.jpg

©2014-2024 Genealogy Just Ask, LLC. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

bottom of page