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What are the Pitfalls with Relying on Family Trees without Sources?

In the first chapter of my book, "My Best Genealogy Tips: Quick Keys to Research Ancestry, Book 2" I spent the time helping my reader understand how important it is to use sources and not just rely on building your family tree without them.

Here are some common pitfalls:

Inaccurate information: With every mistake in a family tree, the truth of your genealogical heritage is distorted. Without sources to back up the information, these inaccuracies become entrenched in your lineage, passed down and copied from one person to the next. Inaccuracies can range from fabrication to minor omissions that unwittingly change the entire landscape of your family history. Even when shared among individuals, errors can be duplicated and spread like wildfire, leaving an incomplete and unreliable version of your ancestry.

I have an example in my own family. Everyone believed our fourth great grandfather was one certain person. Along comes yours truly. I am the person who wants to find three or more historical records to document an ancestor's relationship to me. The red flag for me was his age being old enough to be the grandfather not the father. I never worry about that type of thing, but I happened upon a guardianship paper in the SCDAH where he became the guardian to his grandson. I was able to source that to explain to my family (My Own Research is Better Than What My Family Members Were Told).

Lack of verification: Family trees without sources lack the context and details that provide a deeper understanding of your family history. Sources such as birth certificates, marriage records, census data, and other official documents provide valuable information about individuals, their relationships, and their lives. Without these sources, you miss out on important details that enhance your genealogical research.

United States Census, 1950: Richland. Census Records 1950 (image 9) Wallace Vance

I just had one of those opportunities that I know come upon most of us who do this work. The five-year-old in the house with his mother and father and two sister is my Uncle Wallace at five years old. He was named after his father, Emory Wallace Vance, Sr. I remember my grandmother called him, Wally. Everyone else that I knew called either Wally or Wallace. He passed away in 2017. How I miss him. Being able to physically see this historical record does so much for me that is beyond words.

Copying errors and duplication: Without rigorous, reliable sources to serve as confirmation, assumptions are often made concerning family trees and naming patterns that can be dangerously off base. Children being named after their parents or relatives can lead to extreme confusion if not double checked with correct data. This incorrect information can cause false conclusions about relationships.

Absence of context and details: By relying on the knowledge of a few individuals, family trees can become strongly biased or lack complete information. With such a narrow outlook it becomes increasingly difficult to properly understand your ancestral history. It is essential to bring in a variety of sources and points of view to truly comprehend your genealogy. Do the extra work to identify events with as many historical records as you can find. Check each level of government in which your ancestor lived. Use the Research Wiki to begin learning about what historical records exist.

Misinterpretation of naming patterns: To prevent these issues from arising, it is vital to include verified materials in genealogical research. Such documents may include birth, marriage, and death certificates, military records, immigration documents, census records, and other authoritative papers, but do not stop there. Identify historical records that are not commonly used. Confirming and comparing knowledge from several different sources will help build an accurate and trustworthy family tree.


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