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Recently, I asked a group I am involved with (Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness on Facebook) what mistakes we/they have made over the years in genealogy. I’m sharing them with you as well, maybe together we can avoid them!

By far, the number one mistake people made was not keeping track of sources. Most of us started by just writing down information and never thinking to source  it. That information is basically useless. As they say, information without documentation is mythology.

The next biggest mistake was not talking to those with the information while they are still alive. Unfortunately many of us weren’t interested in genealogy in the times we knew our grandparents, etc. We look back now and would love to sit granny down with a cup of tea and pump her mind for information. Oh if only we could…

Along those lines, people also said a huge mistake was not labeling photographs. Looking through orphaned photograph sites is heartbreaking – looking through your own photographs and having no idea who that handsome man was is worse. Learn from your ancestors’ mistakes – you may know who that cute baby is, but they won’t.

Next was losing, throwing away, or destroying irreplaceable documents. Many times we look at things and just don’t see the value in them (old letters, old records, etc.) But think multiple times about it, and consider scanning them if you absolutely must throw them away.

A surprising one to me was not keeping track of nicknames. People noted that often times they wouldn’t find any records for family members by their “real” names but instead only by their nicknames. It also gives a taste of what that person’s life was really like.

The other major mistakes were:

Mixing up notes: suggestions were to keep separate notebooks for each family.

Not verifying facts that came from a reliable source, i.e. a primary source book. Not everything in writing is true.

Not keeping a list of what sources you checked and when – this prevents wasting time.

Taking family members “facts” as truth without verifying.  Sometimes people tell yarns, other times they just don’t know the truth or make mistakes.

Not printing out sources that later disappear. This can be modified to saving these sources on your computer.

Trusting online trees without verification (A.K.A. being a “Clickophile” – term borrowed from the Blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree)

Not making copies of original documents in case they got lost.

Not backing up your computer, INCLUDING your favorite bookmarks.

Not making a timeline to verify facts.

Limiting searches to only where you think the person will be. Sometimes, you need to think outside the box.

Overlooking sources that are unusual, such as friends, neighbors, and godparents.

Not obtaining official documents to verify facts and before the prices rise.

If you have any control over this, letting people destroy photos or information about people they would rather forget.

Concentrating solely on the direct line and not looking at siblings. Occasionally they will have flavorful stories and often your direct line will be living with them when they are older.

Not starting with yourself and working backwards. You may be wasting time on someone unrelated.

Not documenting where you found a source so you can find it again.

Not leaving your genealogy to someone who will care when about it when you die (obviously this was a mistake someone else made, not the writer of the suggestion!)

Not being sensitive about what you say to living members about their history (i.e. suicide, rape, slavery)

Sharing file/tree/info with someone who then posted it online and/or took credit for it

Criticizing others for their mistakes in their genealogy, they may be new and/or trust their grandma’s stories, etc.

Confusing individuals with similar names/dated by assuming surname means it’s the same person

Not questioning the information on “official” documents


Brilliant suggestions all – let’s all keep them in mind when we research away! Thanks to all who helped with this list.

Recently somebody asked me which are my favorite paid genealogy sites aside from the biggie, Ancestry.

The answer is – that depends, which is why I have subscriptions to so many. I have tried “them all” so to speak so here’s my opinions.

These are paid ones only: is a French website that early on, kicked Family Search’s butt (I have been doing genealogy for a long time…) If you have French ancestry, it’s worth every penny which I believe is $80/year. I do, but I have ceased working on my European history to focus on the US so it’s not as good for me. It has other types too, but much of the site is free so it’s worth making an account and doing some free searches. Also, it can send you weekly hits on certain names and you can go directly to them from the emails.

GenealogyBank is a great resource for obituaries. The trick to it though is you can’t just put in the names in the boxes – the best way to search is to use the keyword and put the names in quotes. You’ll find a lot more that way. is only $30/year with a full ancestry subscription. It isn’t as good as GB because it seems to have less, but here’s the trick – go “browse” at what papers they have in the areas of the country you are interested in. If they don’t have papers in say, Allegheny Pennsylvania and that’s all you care about, pass on this subscription. If they do have papers, it’s good because it does have more than Ancestry does, although there is some overlap. Let’s be honest, it’s not that easy to search Ancestry’s papers, either. is actually better than these other two. They seem to have more, but they are also more expensive. Again, check to see what areas it has newspapers. I have access to this through my local library, which is of course the cheapest way to go! is for me the most frustrating one. It focusses on military, but is limited in what they give you. If  you have a relative who was lost in a war, it may be a goldmine for you as it has so many declassified reports. What’s even better are the naturalization records – those are amazing and often have photos. But I am severely disappointed in the civil war records.  I cannot believe how  much they brag about them when they don’t have anything more than the folder the papers come in, and you have to go through the hassle of ordering everything else from the government anyway. Heck, I could do that with government sites. My recommendation is, do the searches on it free, and if you see something you want, get a subscription for a month or whatever and get your documents. to me is really frustrating, but it’s cheap. $30/year, but it has a lot of crossover with ancestry. The only reason I’d get it aside from that is if you have Lutheran ancestry, which is has amazing records on which are otherwise not available anywhere. is a weird one. It’s better for looking for living people, but occasionally I use it to local people born in the last 100 years (because it usually doesn’t update for deaths). This is another one with a lot of free searches, so make use of them.

I think I got them all, if I forgot any please email me at because the comments are pretty much spam city.