Getting something wrong is not something that we like to admit, but it’s probably one of the best things that you could do when researching your family tree.
My sister, who is an avid horse-rider, taught me at a young age the saying ‘You can’t ride a horse until you’ve fallen off’. This easily applies to researching – you can’t research, until you’ve got it wrong.
But… there’s always lots of moaning about the quality of data when you discover online that your family tree has been ripped to bits by another less-careful researcher, thrown back together with some random names from say – Ohio, leaving you obliterated from existence in their tree.
So why is getting a tree wrong actually important?
Scaring away the cuckoo
Discovering an error in your family tree is something that every genealogist should do at least once during their research. If you’ve never done this, then maybe you’re staring at a ‘cuckoo’ – a person who is using your tree to borrow the love and care that you have for your ancestor, when actually they are from a completely unrelated line.
Saying goodbye to that surrogate family is hard. If you’ve invested your time and effort, and perhaps some affection, then it can be a sad moment when you have to lose them.
Admitting your error
Okay, so here we go…
For years, I stared at the photograph above, of my Great x 4 Grandmother – thinking ‘what a great photo’ and ‘how lovely Mary Waters must have been’, when actually, she was Avis Tall.
I’d allowed a simple mistake creep into my research and onto my website – where I’d simply scrimped on spending time checking sources that I had in my files before adding data to my database and to my website.
A Mary Waters did indeed marry a James Martin, and together they had a son also called James Martin, but it wasn’t until revisiting a marriage certificate in my files for James Martin Jnr, that i realised that the father was actually a Robert Martin a couple of villages away, which then led me to finding his marriage to Avis Tall, and then finding references to them having the son called James Martin.
This changed my tree significantly, as I’d put a lot of effort into tracing back the Mary Waters and James Martin families, and had even found modern-day relatives who descended from them.
Once you’ve found that mistake, your attention and eye for detail is swiftly improved. After finding that Mary Waters was completely wrong, I was straight back to my core tree and re-checking my trees using various sources.
Whilst my site is updated, even now, years on, the effect of the cuckoo lives on – with my ancestor enjoying an existence as ‘Mary Waters’ in new trees within sites such as Ancestry.co.uk.
Getting it wrong makes your research better
By getting your research wrong, realising it, and correcting it, you end up being a far more diligent researcher. Having got it wrong once, you know the pain and embarrassment of sawing off large boughs of your family tree, and then staring at the weedy twig that’s left behind.
So, before you commit that ancestor to your tree – check. Check again. Then cross-check, or the cuckoos will get you.