- You need to document where you find information and cite that source! After researching for about 10 years, I am still finding and fielding questions about where I got the parents of "so and so" and how do I know they were in "such and such" place. Often I can go back and find where I got that information and cite it. Too many times, for my comfort, I just have to say, "I dunno" which makes me feel like an idiot and really diminishes the validity of the work I've put into amassing my family history.
- You can't assume that because "everyone knows it" that the information is correct, especially if you don't live in the area and have to rely on online family trees and records that you get online. You have to question everything because even though records might still be pointing you in the right direction, you can be way off base.
Here are three cases that I've had to deal with in barking up the wrong family tree or at least the wrong branch -
- Elijah Alexander and his ancestors - I was given information that he belonged to the Boone County, Kentucky Alexanders when I first started my research. Even after believing this was correct for a couple of years, I uploaded my Alexander family research online believing that I was helping others as I had been helped. As I was finally able to access census records, etc., it became apparent that the information I had been given just didn't apply to the family I was finding and felt sure was more correct. What did I do? Well, first, I made a gedcom of the wrong family and I have it stored (and can hopefully find and access) in case someone of that Alexander family contacts me and then I deleted them from my family files. Scary!! Even though I could add them back if I was wrong, that first massive delete cause me great anxiety. Luckily, I haven't regretted it. While deleting these ancestors meant that I had to find Elijah's ancestry and that's become a real challenge that I haven't been able to achieve yet, I believe that, as I do find his ancestry, I will learn valuable lessons in sleuthing as well as give hope to others that they, too, can break through those brick walls that stand in the way.
Another difficult chore was explaining on my website that I had been mistaken about about Elijah's ancestry and apologizing for any harm this might have caused. Fortunately, all the feedback from that fiasco was pretty positive and people appreciated me being upfront about my mistake.
- George Scott Coats - This is a very recent development. A respected Mammoth Cave area researcher contacted me and asked me why I thought his parents were John Coats and Rachael Richardson. I immediate thought was "Well, everyone knows that's who his parents are!". Instead, I asked why he thought they weren't his parents. Boy, was I ever glad I asked him that question because he was able to send me a court document concerning John and Rachael's heirs that showed that the George Coats that was his son didn't lived out of state in 1863. I had recently found a George Coats married to a Celia Doyel in Greene Co, IL and knew that somehow he was connected with the Edmonson - Hart - Barren County, Kentucky Coats family but hadn't figured out the connection. However, with this document, it became evident that the Greene Co. IL George Coats was the son of John Coats and Rachael Richardson and my George Scott Coats was the son of George Coats, Jr. and Mary Taylor. This would explain why George Scott Coats was in Hart County in 1850 (Hart County was where George Jr lived with his wife, other children and sisters) and why he was named George Coats Jr in that record. This had puzzled me for quite some time but I had figured the enumerator had made a mistake. I feel much better about George Scott Coats' ancestry now because it follows a logical progression and I'm hoping that with my new friend's help, I can get even more documentation on his ancestry. When I reload on my Goff and Hobbs and Everything in Between site, Scott Coats will finally be shown with the correct family. Yea!
Are there still things to be worked out? Yes. For one thing, we know that Scott Coats' full name is George Scott Coats but he's also listed as George Coats Jr. Does this mean the Coats patriarch in that area was fully named George Scott Coats? At this point, I don't know. Hopefully, I can find records that will be able to shed some light on this conundrum.
- Two John Hobbs - The last recent example has to do with my husband's Hobbs family. I have been filling in the blanks I have for this huge family with the help of several researchers but one in particular lately, Jo Hilleman, has been sending me some of her mother's research showing how some of the Hobbs family circles back around to some of my Goff family. We both thought that was pretty cool! In that research, she kept coming across a John B. Hobbs in Marshall County, Iowa where Rebecca Hobbs (who married John Orr) was living. I had noticed him too but couldn't figure out how he fit into the family even though we were both pretty sure that he did. However, I had that the John Hobbs that was Rebecca's brother was married to Susannah Rose and I had found several of their children and they were nowhere near Marshall County, Iowa! Then, yesterday, I looked up Susannah Rose in my family database and realize I had two - with the same dates - and both married to John Hobbses. In using a couple of online trees with some documentation that Jo sent to me, I was able to figure out that I had made a huge mistake and spent the day merging and fixing it with records to support the two branches and now have the two John Hobbs' straightened out and with their correct families.
In the course of our research, we will make mistakes. It's when we're not too prideful to take another look at what we have and to check with all the documents available to us that we can correct those mistakes and make the family histories we work so hard on mean even more because of their authenticity. When we cite our sources, we can much more easily go back and see where we might have gone wrong in our research. Is it tedious at time? Yes! But, it's worth it in the long run.