1. You picked up the trail where someone else’s research left off and you didn’t check their work. Maybe they were wrong and you picked up the wrong trail! In the first article in the “Articles” tab above I’ve described one such work by NEHGS genealogist, William Richard Cutter, who in 1912 linked up the wrong parents for Joseph Chaplin.1 Numerous researchers have perpetuated that mistake.
2. In your searching, you didn’t include nearby associates and family members with names spelled a variety of ways. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG,CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, first coined the term “FAN Club” to refer to “family, associates, and neighbors.” You may study this principle at her “Evidence Explained” website, and in “The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle): QuickSheet,” or study her methods at Historic Pathways.com.
3. You found a derivative of an original record, but didn’t look for the original. The derivative may have mistakes. The original may provide more accurate information! (See Standard 38, Genealogy Standards.)2
4. You didn’t study the time and place to know where the records should be located. For instance, you might have tried to find the record where your ancestor in 1844 purchased land in Jones County, Iowa. Jones County was created in 1837, so you went through the county deeds indexes but didn’t find a record of his purchase. You might have stopped your search there, not realizing the federal government first distributed that land and the record may be at the federal level through the Bureau of Land Management. (See Standards 9-18, Genealogy Standards.) To begin your study of what records may be available in a time and place, start with the Family History Research Wiki. You may search by place or by topic. You may also want to search by place at the USGenWeb site.
5. You didn’t study the laws of the time and place to understand the records that may have been created. For instance, laws defined legal age, taxation, inheritance issues, military pensions, dates for vital registration, etc. The expert on the law as it pertains to genealogy is Judy Russell, JD, CG,CGL, The Legal Genealogist.
6. You didn’t conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in all the records that could be relevant to the problem. You didn’t find at least two independent sources that agree on the answer you seek, nor did you use sources a competent researcher would use. (See Standard 17, Genealogy Standards.)
7. You didn’t completely analyze a source, testing it for reliability of both the source and the information. You didn’t note if the source was legible, cracked, decayed, or maybe had been added to or changed. You didn’t ask about the background of the witness or informant. You didn’t question if he or she had first-hand knowledge of the event or if there may have been a motive to falsify his or her testimony. (See Standard 39, Genealogy Standards.) (Two great resources to help you learn how to analyze information are Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG,CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA,3 and Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones, CG, CGL.4
8. You missed important clues because you ignored small details or didn’t understand the terminology. For instance, land and probate records have their own legal language. To the layman, they may just look like a lot of fluff, but the trained eye will notice the needful things. Some may skim over the inventory in a probate record, but the diligent researcher will recognize blacksmith’s tools, the information that just may make the case. (See Standard 40, Genealogy Standards.)
9. You failed to record information that may later become pertinent to the puzzle. When you reviewed your notes, the information you needed was not recorded and you didn’t remember it. (See Standards 1-8, Genealogy Standards.)
10. You didn’t correlate the evidence and resolve inconsistencies. Then, you didn’t write up a sound argument of your findings up to that time. If you had correlated the evidence and written it up, you might have discovered the answer staring you in the face. (See Standards 47-49 and 51-67, Genealogy Standards.)
These are some of the most common mistakes made by those searching family lines.
I’ll cover these issues in greater depth in future blog posts.
If you’ve made some of these mistakes, go back to your research and do it right! Genealogy Standards by the Board for Certification of Genealogists will help you in your quest to become a better researcher.
Let’s hear from you! How have you mistakenly built your own brick wall?
What other ways do you know of where brick walls been erected?
- William Richard Cutter, Genealogical and Family History of Western New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation, 3 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912-1914), 3:1146-47. ↩
- Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014). ↩
- Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012). ↩
- Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013). ↩