Getting started on family history work is a thrilling prospect. As you begin to find and build your family’s legacy, be sure to avoid these basic family history mistakes!

Focusing Only on Names/Dates

When starting family history research, it’s tempting to find names as quickly as possible. However, remember that these people are more than just a string of letters and dates. By taking the time to thoroughly explore sources, you can learn a lot about your ancestors, and bring their histories to live. Record interesting facts such as what they looked like, where they lived, and historical events in history that helped to shape their lives. By doing so, your ancestors will become more than ancestors, they’ll become family.

Not Consulting Relatives

A great way to find out more details on ancestor’s lives is by consulting relatives. Though you may know little or nothing about some of the ancestors who came before you, the same may not be true for your relatives. Through oral histories, aunts and uncles may remember things about your grandparents, great grandparents, and those who came before that would be otherwise impossible to learn. Not only can you discover unique details about your ancestors, but you may stumble across valuable facts that allow you to further your own research. Do your relatives know the nicknames or maiden names of your ancestors? Ask them!

Claiming Legends as Fact

While those family stories should be found and recorded, be sure not to mistake legends as facts. Carefully investigate family stories to find the truth within embellished family stories. If you can’t prove the entire story, you can still record it as part of your family’s history. Just be sure to note which parts of the story have been proven, and which have not.

Blindly Trusting the Internet

Sorting legends from fact isn’t something that’s limited to oral histories. The internet can make a great resource, but remember that not everything found there is true. Check your internet resources for offline sources that you can validate. Failure to check for sources may lead to incorrect information being copied into your family tree. And speaking of source checking…

Failure to Cite Sources

Citing sources of your family history research is imperative. Even if you don’t plan to publish your work online or in your own family history book, be sure to record the name of your source, its location, and the day you found it, regardless of whether you find the information from a family member, on a web site, in a book, via a photogrpah, or on a tombstone. Citing your sources will give the genealogists who follow you a reference for their work, and the ability to prove your research as fact. Additionally, if you ever need to return to a source, by citing them as you go along, you’ll save yourself valuable time.


Those citations, stories, descriptions, and histories can all build up so quickly! Be sure that, as you get started with your genealogy work, you have a method of organization in place. Whether you organize via software programs, online family tree programs, file folders, or color coded binders, find a method of organization that works for you so that you can keep all your references, sources, and ancestors straight!

How do you organize your genealogy research?