So you’re happily plugging along and digging deep into your family tree when all of a sudden you come to an abrupt halt. Your information is conflicting. Perhaps you have one document, which says your great-great grandmother Sue has three children, and another document says she has six. What to do?
Here are some tips and strategies to help you sort through conflicting genealogy information.
Much of the information you find on your family history has merely been copied from earlier documents. That means sometimes the wrong information gets passed down and documented over and over again.
Part of the art and science of genealogy is detective work. To help track which facts are correct and which aren’t make sure to note your information sources. This is why an organization system is so important for genealogists.
Document the name of the book, author, publisher year of publication, and ISBN. It also helps to document where you found the information, for example at your local library, so you can go back there if you need to.
Do the math
Double-check all the dates to make sure they are reasonable. A simple typo can make a world of difference and send you off track in your research. For example, a woman born in 1690 could not have become a mother in 1700.
Nicknames can cause trouble
A nickname can also confuse the situation and result in conflicting information. Particularly in a family where names are passed down and you have 25 Marys in your family tree. A request for a birth certificate for May Smith most likely will be rejected by a record office if the name in their files is Mary Smith.
Chances are you’re going to find several variations on the spelling of family surnames. In fact, as you reach back into time you’re probably going to find some confusing and conflicting information. This is because names change over time and there is a high chance that some of your relatives were illiterate and didn’t know how to accurately convey the spelling of their last name to record keepers. Knowing this little tidbit will help you sort out which information is accurate and which isn’t.
In addition to inconsistent spellings, people defined relationships differently back in the good old days. For example, in the 17th century a stepson or stepdaughter was often called a son or daughter-in-law. If you have conflicting information about parentage and children, knowing this little tidbit can help you sort out what is fact.
Cities and municipalities change over the years. This means it’s easy to find conflicting information about where someone was born, died, married, and so on, because the name of the place may have changed over time.
As you come across conflicting information, relax. Make a note of it, and continue researching. You don’t have to decide what’s true and what’s false immediately, and in fact rushing to make a decision could lead you in the wrong direction.
Conflicting information is a common part of uncovering your family tree. Expect it, prepare for it, and cherish it. This kind of detective work is part of what makes Genealogy an exciting and engaging science.
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Internet Specialist by trade and passionate about my family's history, I set out to try and reconnect the many lost connections with my paternal family.
Your tombstone stands among the rest
What is Genealogy?
Why is Genealogy Important?
What to do When You Have a Common Surname
Do I Need The Help of a Professional Genealogist?
How to Find Free Basic Genealogy Information