Relying on bad research

Sadly, too much of the published genealogy information is completely unreliable. The first thing to check when looking at online or published genealogies is to see if the details are provided showing where the records came from so that you can determine the reliability of the material is.

For any information on ancestors who lived more than 80 years ago, check it out for yourself. Make sure someone didn't grab names and try to make them fit together.


What are some of the tip-offs that you were given unreliable research?


These are all clues of inexperienced researchers who tried to make things work or who are prone to make (and publish) errors.


Credible Resources make Credible Research

This seems simple enough, but there are so many people documenting whatever they find without verifying its accuracy. Official documents from government archives are highly desirable, but even they are prone to simple mistakes. Records created 10-20 years after an event are less reliable than documents created at the time of the event. When there are conflicts between sources, accept none of them until you can draw an educated conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Batch sheets and pedigree files at the LDS Family History Centers are the worst sources of reliable information. While the people submitting them are well-intentioned, no one ever double checks them for accuracy. And once submitted, there is no way for the author (or anyone else) to correct the information.

Also don't be fooled into thinking that publication of a tree on a CD or in a magazine makes it more reliable. It doesn't. Many genealogy magazines will print anything submitted to them without any kind of checking or peer review. Cutting and marketing a CD in this day and age is as easy as burning it and putting a fun label on it.

The best advice you will ever get is to rely on nothing you haven't proven for yourself.


The only online records that you should consider accurate are those from reputable agencies, universities and archives, such as SSDI (Social Security Death Index), PRDH at the Université de Montreal, GenLias from the Dutch Archives, or the Acadian Research Centre at the Université de Moncton. These sites are not only well-researched, but are also verified and proofed for accuracy a dozen times over.


What are the sites that you need to take with a grain of salt and pull original records for yourself?, County Clerk websites, online census indices, even transcriptions from the Archives of Michigan.

These sound like reputable sites, so why are they less reliable than others are? Because they are full of transcription errors. Any site relying on the ability of a stranger to decipher 100+ year old records with accuracy is prone to have spelling errors, missing letters, and transposed information. But the good news is that all of these records are available to us to pull for ourselves and review.

Remember our earlier example of the Naturalization petition of Amand Hugo? That record was found at the Archives of Michigan. In their index, his name is typed "Amand Hugott". Only when you pull the original document do you realize that he had an exquisite flourish in his handwriting. The transcriptionist misinterpreted a swirl under the name with two vertical lines running through it as a "tt".

© 2006 Jan Nearing, LaMere Consulting, Midland, Michigan. All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2012 all rights reserved Jan Nearing
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