If you have an account on Ancestry.com, you might be familiar with Hints. Hints appear as green leaves in the corners of your relatives’ photos on your family tree, and invite you to explore possible sources and connections. This is actually a great way to start your tree, find information, or flesh out a person’s life. Hints include not only sources, but links to other family trees with the same person so you can verify or add data. However, this has serious pitfalls, and can turn into a big mistake to make on your family tree.
A Common Blunder
Genealogy is best experienced as a group effort. Gathering stories from close and extended family members is vital to finding missing links, or just to understanding an ancestor’s life. However, anything but firsthand or secondhand sources should be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s an extremely common mistake to use other people’s sources and attach the wrong parents to a child in your family tree. Whether by similar names, oral histories, or similar locations, making incorrect connections happens all the time. It’s so common, in fact, that it happens to well-known people or careful researchers! Even Hillary Clinton‘s family tree had a branch that was entirely wrong!
Not only is it common to copy someone else’s incorrect research; it’s an appealing one, too. After all, filling out your tree based on someone else’s sounds like a great way to gather up a lot of information at once. This is especially true for those who want to fill out a family tree quickly and move on, rather than putting in the careful research. But it’s potentially a costly mistake because of the amount of time this can waste.
Filling your tree with misleading histories has a ripple effect that affects anyone looking along those same family lines. If a genealogist finds an error, it may take time to connect the right parents back into the family tree. It may take even longer if you must rebuild the tree from that point.
Fixing Your Family Tree
Have you connected family members from on someone else’s tree? There is a way to prevent and undo the spread of misinformation. Use those Hints on Ancestry.com that are firsthand sources (certificates, information written by the person in question, etc.) to verify your connection with an ancestor. If there is a relative you doubt, do some careful source checking. It may take time, but you’ll be able to get your tree back to accurate!
If you are still building your family tree, ask yourself before sharing or accepting any information:
Am I sure this connection is accurate?
Are there sources in the other tree to back up their claims?
Am I sharing information in an easy-to-copy format?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you are ready to share and copy information from other family trees, no matter the platform!