Question of the Week: What's your most embarrassing genealogical mistake? [closed]

+25 votes

Have you made any embarrassing genealogical mistakes?

Share one so others can learn from you! :)  Reply with an answer below, on Facebook, or use the question image to share it on social media.

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
closed by Chris Whitten
I married one poor girl off at the age of 7 xxx
Triple quadruple check YEARS! TYPOS happen but it really matters when I looked back on my rookie-research from 30 years ago when my sister was born in 1870 and my father was "my daughters husband".   Lordy, I've come a long way. I saved the paper with a note for my descendants... watch for typing errors! Lol
My mistake was that I assumed that my middle name, my father's middle name and my grandfather's first name (Thatcher) had an historical association with a long lost family trade.  So, my son's middle name and my grandson's middle name are also Thatcher.  I mentioned this to my father's sister, who replied "Oh, you don't know that story?"  She had asked her grandmother why she had named her father "Thatcher", and was told "I just LOVED Tom Sawyer".  And that how five generations of us men were named after Becky Thatcher!
That's funny!
Not a mistake I made, but a lesson I learned:  Unless confirmed by DNA matches, no paternal genealogical record can truly be certain!  Down through the years, there has always been tremendous incentive for a woman to list her husband as the father on the birth certificates of her children, even if there were other "candidates".
My mistake was incorrectly reading a fancily written "C" as a "G". I spent the better part of almost 2 years trying to pin down that GLASSON relative - without success. It was only when another relative mentioned that he had previously corresponded with his CLASSON cousins that I realised my mistake.
That branch of the family is NOW documented!! :-)
That is an awesome story!
Isn't that the truth?!?
I found that out when as a child I looked at a family tree given to my grandparents where each of their 9 children on a branch and my grandparents at the base of the tree had their birth stone. I looked and saw my grandparents got married in 1994 knowing my mom was born in 1942. I said how can that have happened? That is when it was explained to me that Grandpa adopted my mom after he and Grandma got married. Same thing happened to my dad.  DNA tests have not turned up my biological grandfathers families yet.
MIKE JOHNSON: Are you sure about this??
I'm still trying to make sure that one relative has more than three sets of grandparents. In my early research I thought I had stumbled across a family secret of first cousins getting married. Not only did I find one of these events...I had four.  Luckily I found my mistakes, easy to do when families have thirteen kids and those kids have big families. I'm down to only one marriage of first cousins and the evidence is very clear in the handwritten notes I acquired from their granddaughter. Just remember to check your dates, and recheck them often.
Two Roy Buchanans both born early 1891 in Otoe County Nebraska,  one with a sister named Arminda, other had wife named Arminta. I spent a whole day recording all the info I found under one name, until I suddenly found the parents names for the second one. One was Roy Oren, one was Roy John, their fathers were first cousins.  Deleted the whole mess and started over!
I totally get that!

My fathers parents were 1st cousins twice removed.  Probably why they fought all the time.  I assume they didn't talk about family or ancestors... grandma said life was work.  Grandma said there wasn't time for playing or just relaxing and vsiting, too much to do working the land.

I have a second set and figure it will show me the err of my ways in time.
Hahahaha! Hilarious way to put it! =D

40 Answers

+28 votes
Accepting the lineages in the 1861 Reed family genealogy at face value and linking a man born in the 1760s to a father who died in the 1730s.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 9 (94.5k points)
Been there done that.
+34 votes
Assuming that my oral family history was correct. Lots of mistakes there.
by Living Palmer G2G6 Mach 9 (92.2k points)
Hear hear!
Same here!
I agree with you. This is a big one in my family on both my father's and mother's side. My research has exploded several family myths that were oral "history" but actually were not true. I don't believe that anyone lied, but they just made too many unwarranted assumptions. On my father's side, we were not descended from the Ceruti family who made famous violins in Cremona, Italy. On my mother's side, the coat of arms that my family thought was theirs actually belonged to a different family with the same last name.
The Palmers/Palmours are an interesting bowl of spaghetti! Lots of incorrect information out there. I did it too.
Hear! Hear! I was told that my Ettery ancestor (Thomas Richard) arrived in Australia on the First Fleet (arrived Australia Jan 1788). Subsequent research revealed that even his GRANDFATHER wasn't a gleam in HIS father's eye when the First Fleet arrived - Thomas Richard Ettery was born 1842, and arrived here 1855.
+23 votes
A mistake on my part; not paying enough attention to what is right in front of you.

A family tree researched by DeBretts of London was commissioned by the descendants of my 2 X grt Grandfather born 1839;  to celebrate the centennial of the founding of his steel manufacturing business.  

The tree is very well done, I have the 3 X 4 foot version, however I never noticed that the children of one great uncle are attached to the wrong grt uncle, who never married. The children are correct, but they have the wrong father.

Lesson learned: Pay attention
by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (436k points)
YES! lol yes!
+27 votes
My first few years of genealogical study resulted in a large tree. I used good sources and everything, except, and this is a big except, I did not write down any of the sources. I just looked at them and said this is valid! Big mistake number one. Then, I stored all my information on my computer's hard drive. This was in the days before cloud storage. I did not have any back up. You guessed it! While I was going back to fill in the sources I got the blue screen of death and needed a new computer. I still have the hard drive, but have never accessed it.

Lesson 1 - sources sources sources

Lesson 2 - store your work in more than one place
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (667k points)
+25 votes
In the early 1980's while moving across country for my work instead of packing them with me for the drive I let the moving company box up my mother's original 19th c. family photograph albums. Of course they were in the boxes that never showed up...I was and still am heartbroken.  :-(
by Leigh Anne Dear G2G6 Mach 9 (95.2k points)
Oh, how sad.  Sorry to hear that!
Oh nooooo!!!
+21 votes
Back in the infancy of my family research, I was working on my maternal grandmother's Thomas line. Made my first trip to Salt Lake City and spent a week on microfilm and sitting down on the floor of the book section. I tracked them from Franklin County, Georgia back into North Carolina and Virginia. There were two large Thomas families - some of the same names, children named the same. Yep, you have already guessed it. I chose the wrong one - the English Thomases instead of the German Thomas/Thoma line. Compiled a book, mainly for family but a few copies to libraries. It still comes back to haunt me every once in a while!!
by Virginia Fields G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
I am in the process of making the same mistake as the one you made. Only difference is that I can still correct my mistake. I am not really sure which is which but I have a feeling about it.
It is truly a sinking feeling, isn't it? Glad you caught yours earlier rather than later. I still cringe every time I see someone with that wrong info on a tree.
Same here. I have changed a 4x great grandfather 3 or 4 times. If only the writing on the census forms had not been so fancy trying to make letters out when there was just initials. One ancestor had his legal name one year on the census and the nickname the next time around (not even something that made sense), but his wife's and kids names were still the same and the ages and place of birth matches.Talk about being confused!
+18 votes
As someone else has said when starting out not recording enough source detail.

Also taking others work as correct rather than asking them for their sources.

Consequently I found myself going back over things.

The one good thing is that doing a review often reveals where there are gaps or conflicts.

But some of those who provided information are no longer around so I have to find other sources.

by Hilary Gadsby G2G6 Pilot (254k points)
I review all the time. I find and fix minor errors. (I only do this because I do loose-geneaology on occasion (stroke-brain) and I usually start at the beginning of a line and cruise through wherever it takes me. I have found several mistakes by flowing through my trees.
This was my mistake. I researched a connection on FamilySearch, moved it and several family members over to WikiTree, then discovered that someone on FamilySearch had conflated a number of records with similar names. I had to go back onto WikiTree to separate the ones I'd just added and figure out which ones should be part of my tree, and which not.
+20 votes
Probably the time I had a message from someone on Ancestry saying my tree was incorrect and that my great-great-grandfather had married someone else. I thanked them, deleted hours of work (from my Ancestry tree), tried to figure out who my great-great-grandfather actually was... only for it to end me messaging them back with proof that my tree had actually been correct the entire time and their's was wrong instead. Whoops. Had to spend hours adding it all again. Perhaps the biggest part of the mistake is that if I had backups (which I now do) I could've just restored it... lesson well learnt!
by Anonymous Dowding G2G6 Mach 3 (31.7k points)
edited by Anonymous Dowding
+20 votes
When I was told there were no records and I believed it. The data was out there and I didn't look for it for three years because I was told it didn't exist. Finding my grandfather's burial site was amazing.
by Betty Fox G2G6 Pilot (170k points)
+24 votes
When she lied on her marriage certificate in 1866 my wife's great grandmother didn't realise the trouble she would cause 150 years later. She had claimed that her father was James Sherring and I had worked this out to be a man born in Ham, Somerset in the 1840s. It had to be, he was the only James Sherring of the right age. He was the son of a miller and lo and behold the mill house in which he was born was now owned by the National Trust and could be rented for holidays. This was too good an opportunity to be missed and so I booked a long weekend for the whole family 'because this was where your great great  grandfather was born'.

Meanwhile... a cousin of my wife who she barely knew got in touch and pointed out my error. It appears that her great grandmother was actually illegitimate and she had invented James to cover up the fact. This gave my credibility as a genealogist a big knock and I had to eat a massive helping of humble pie.

We still went to the cottage and actually had a great time so no harm was done really. The moral of the story is however NEVER BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU READ ON A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE WITHOUT FURTHER EVIDENCE!!!
by Derek Allen G2G6 Mach 1 (17.5k points)

This reminds me of a similar incident with me that I actually asked for advice on in the G2G forum recently.

To sum it up, his marriage record said his father was a Thomas Waterman when it was actually a William Waterman. Caused lots of uncertainty for me and I'm still not sure why it actually says this as he was a legitimate child with nothing (that I know of) tho hide.

I've learned never to believe anything on any record unless it's backed up by other records/evidence. People seem to lie a lot!smiley

My maternal grandfather's paternal grandfather supposedly(!!) drowned just prior to marrying his future bride, to whom he already had an infant child - the story was it was going to be a marriage & christening when the preacher next did his rounds. Much much MUCH digging to come to conclusion that, with g-g-grandma, either (1) she made up name of baby's father (or didn't know - or want to admit - who he was); or (2) the gentleman she knew as William James RYAN used an alias.
+21 votes

My paternal great grandmother Maria Sophia Finnern was born 1864 in Oering, Segeberg, Schleswig-Holstein; her father was the farmer Hans Hinrich Finnern in Oering.

Some month ago I found a Finnern, born in Oering 1860 who lived and died in Sehestedt, Eckernförde, Schleswig-Holstein; his father was the farmer Hans Hinrich Finnern in Oering.

I thought I found a brother of my great grandfather.

Last week archion put online the parish records of Sehestedt and I found his death record. His father was Hans Hinrich Finnern in Oering but the mother was another person. So I thought Hans Hinrich was married twice.

But then I checked the cencus lists and big surprise. There lived two farmers Hans Hinrich Finnern at the same time in Oering.

My only thing to do now was to delete this person.sad

by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)
+18 votes
I've wasted time and money by not knowing how to get family information.  Purchasing printed genealogies, one hardbound book (400+ pages) on the History of Grafton County, New Hampshire, and nearly a dozen letters from small towns in New England stating that there was no record of the ancestor I was researching.
by Janine Barber G2G6 Pilot (199k points)
+21 votes
How much time do you have?

But seriously, in my earlier days, I used to copy from people's trees over at Ancestry and Family Search just like everyone else. When I came to WikiTree, I had to do a whole lot of clean up when I realized how stupid that was because there were so so many inaccuracies! I'm still doing some clean up farther back.
by Emma MacBeath G2G6 Pilot (979k points)
At least you never marked yourself as dead, Emms. Sigh.....


No, can't say I've done that Chris! LOLlaugh

I brought myself back through the magic of plot devices! And editorial mandates.
Even I have not made that mistake, yet.
+18 votes
Not capturing enough information about a source to be able to find that source again.

This came to light in a discussion with a first cousin about the spelling of our grandmother Otillia Toepelt's name. She was born before birth records were kept. Records had 12 variant spelling for her first name, and 18 for her surname.
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
+17 votes
Assuming that my family's stories weren't true. I'm not a cynical person, but I figured I'd be the laughingstock of the genealogical community if I voiced any naive beliefs. Turns out I should've had more confidence in my family, because us being European royalty, Grandma Ruth spending WWII in the Gila River camp with the Japanese POWs, that one grandpa who lost the family fortune betting on horses... It was all true.
by Charlotte Landis G2G3 (3.4k points)
My mother always said there was money in “Chancery” in the UK. I just wish I could find it.
Ah, money in Chancery reminds me of "Bleak House", by Charles Dickens. Never count on that!
My mother's family always said we were descended from a Cherokee princess. I haven't found her yet, but my brother did find a Mantauk princess we're descended from on our father's side. After your story, now I'll keep looking for the Cherokee connection too.
I don't know if she was a princess, but I hope what I found is true about my 7th(?) great grandmother being Cherokee. My mom claims her great grandmother was part Cherokee, but not from what I found. Then again she also claims we are related to Sitting Bull and Catherine of Aragon.
+17 votes

Other than marking myself as deceased here on WikiTree, my most embarrassing mistake would have to be how I messed up the Coppola line by having Rosa Stella as a daughter of Paolo Coppola and Rosa Suverato, my 3x great-grandparents. It turns out that she was the daughter of Caterina Coppola, my 3x great-grandfather's sister.

I found this all out after a descendant of Rosa messaged me on Ancestry. She straightened me out and told me that Rosa's first cousin, Giovanni paid the way for her and her sister to come to America.

The reason I made the mistake was because of this image of the Coppola fam in the Italians in Haverhill book. I misread it and goofed.

Now everything has been fixed and I need to find who Caterina and Paolo's parents are so I can put the band back together.

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (589k points)
edited by Chris Ferraiolo
Did you discover you marked yourself as dead before anyone noticed or did someone have to tell you? Love it!
I discovered it after I edited my profile. It's way back in my own profile's edit history. XD For like five minutes I was listed as deceased. I noticed something odd when I saved my profile. Then I went to work correcting the mistake.

That's really funny Chris Ferraiolo!angel

+12 votes
Writing a manuscript, sending it to an FASG to review, him sending me useful revisions and pointing out that I spelled his name wrong, sending back the revised version and pointing out his appearance in the acknowledgment, and then him telling me that in the acknowledgment I had once again spelled his name wrong.
by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (240k points)
+10 votes

When i started research my spouses families , I did not interpret the census record correctly, before computers and did not realize my 2nd husband was related to me til after he and my mother had passed away , my mother kept saying there was a connection she had notice some of our ancestors had lived close to my late husband's ancestors , my 4th great grandparents are his 3rd great grandparents , so our son is kin to him self ....

Robert Carroll Davis

by Janine Isleman G2G6 Mach 8 (84.0k points)
The farther back you go in generations, the higher the probability that you will find that you (or a relative) have an ancestor that appears in more than one place in the family tree. One way to discover this is by using fan charts.
+12 votes
My great-grandmother Melanie Cartier was a direct descendant of the famous explorer Jacques Cartier, and made sure everyone knew it. It is mentioned in the newspaper account of her 90th birthday, for one place. All of us were proud of this famous ancestor. My sister and my son both used their famous ancestor in  school history reports.

You do not have to be an especially proficient genealogist to notice that Jacques Cartier did not have any descendants. I'm embarrassed to think that my entire family fell for this story. Melanie has been dead for years, but I still wonder if I should let the other family members know the truth?
by Joyce Vander Bogart G2G6 Pilot (185k points)
I have been working on my family tree for years. I have used several types of software over the years and the biggest mistake was not putting sources. My grandmother was a Cartier and I found Jaques Cartier to be my first cousin, 16 x removed. Now, I am so confused. Is it possible that he is my first cousin, 16 x removed?

My oft-repeated mistake is not bookmarking websites. When I read your question, I  found a website that said that most people who think they are descended from the Famous Explorer are really descended from his uncle. That was a whole hour ago, but now I've lost it. (Yes, if you are descended from his uncle, you are his cousin several degrees removed.)

I just located the website. Good luck.

+13 votes
I had been in contact with a relative found through a DNA match. Since she shared DNA with someone else I had already determined the common ancestors for, we quickly established that those ancestors were in her tree too and she gave me the line of descent to her.

I knew from this information that an Elizabeth from my family had married a William and I already knew when Elizabeth was born. So I looked in the census records and quickly found an Elizabeth of the right age married to a William with the surname from the email in the right area. The web site I was using lets you add people in a census record to your tree so I did that as I like to record brothers and sisters too. The daughter my relative was descended from was too young to be in that census, so I then followed the family through subsequent censuses  (they didn't move) and attached them too.

The next day I decided to add the next generation down and reread my relative's email. At this point I realized that the daughter my relative was descended from wasn't one of those listed in the censuses. What?! At this point I discovered another William and Elizabeth with the same surname living a mile or two away in another parish but with a daughter with the right name and birth year. The Elizabeth was the same age as the one I had previously found. So I had documented the wrong family.

This makes me wonder how easy it is to make mistakes when the records are patchier.

by Tim Partridge G2G6 Mach 3 (36.9k points)
It is very easy to make mistakes when family members try to cover up what is or was going on. If an ancestor did not want anyone to know about something he or she did or something that was done to him or her, the record will not be available.

This is particularly true if a family member were a pirate or a gangster.

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