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.