A common one that needs to be avoided is mistakes relating to an ancestor’s given names or surname. Whoever wrote down the information for a document is not infallible, they either misheard a name or ‘guessed’ at its spelling. They had to guess because the actual ancestor may not have known how to spell their name. Then when it was transcribed, the handwriting may have been hard to read, so it was transcribed wrong.
Also, people changed their name spellings over the years, so be aware of variations. Here is an example I located in research of a family name:
Routh in 1840
Ruthe in 1850
Rough in 1860
Rouch and Rouche in 1870
Rue in 1880 and from then on
The “Rue” spelling may have been settled on after several decades since it was simple and an easy spelling.
Another common error is a person with the same exact names as your ancestor. There you really need to check birth dates, marriage dates, hometowns, spouse’s names, etc. to make such you have the right individual.
Traditionally, a common practice was to use given names generation after generation. So you could find a John Henry Johnson covering many decades and it turns out to be the grandfather, father and then his son. This can happen with females also.
Sometimes you find an ancestor listed as a widow or widower. In fact, they may actually be divorced, separated, or the spouse ‘ran off, not to be found’. Then there could be bigamy, where someone was married to two people at the same time. No matter the situation, do not assume if it stated on any document the person was a widow or widower, that was what the real case is. Instead, they trying to handle a delicate situation. Check it out in as many different other sources you can. Verify!!
Review dates, for example, if an ancestor had served during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and you find they were born after 1850 to 1853, it is very unlikely their served, they were too young. Yes, there were some boys ages 12 and 13 as drummer boys, but still rare. The same goes for too old an individual. If born before 1810, very unlikely they served. The same needs to be examined about children born and the age of the mother. If the mother would have been age 60 when a child was born, unlikely they gave birth to that child. Instead, the child could be a grandchild that the older grandmother is raising. That was a very common practice. Also, the female may even referred to herself as the child’s mother rather than grandmother, something I have seen many times.
Lastly, a common wrongdoing is assuming everything found on the Internet, especially with a posted family tree, is 100% accurate. See what sources are posted to back up the names, dates, etc listed. If none are listed, write to the person posting that tree and ask about their sources. If there is not much to back it up, you have to really check it out yourself. Viewing a similar family tree is good just to get an idea of a hometown or time period — not to copy exactly.
Related FamilyTree.com genealogy blogs:
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