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

+38 votes

What's your most embarrassing genealogical mistake? Come on - time to fess-up and don't worry - you're not alone, we've all made 'em!

in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
closed by Chris Whitten

Meestake, what meestake? I don know nutin' 'bout no meestake. Mags

imageme neither...

Accidently deleting my Granfather while trying to add children after  weeks on his side getting all the way back  7 generations. Deleted everything I had :( or that I dint understand that gedcom thing or how to read it
My paternal ancestors came to New Hampshire in the 1670s (George Ricker is my 7th great-grandfather). Each family gave virtually the same names to their children, which could get very confusing, especially since most families tended to have at least 7-8 children. But even worse, I noticed that, when a child died, the parents sometimes would give a later-born child the same name! This led to many mistakes.

25 Answers

+22 votes
Best answer

When I really got into using  I followed the shaky leaves with no questions asked.  Hey, they are professionals (right?) and leaves point me to new ancestors, Right?

Then one day I found an obvious mistake and I had to stop and think and reason.  Bingo, I discovered the need for sources.

So, what was my penance for not learning and using good sources? I had to remove over 300 direct "ancestors" one profile at a time.  It actually took more clicks to remove the ancestor than it took to add them.

I am still cleaning up residual messes today, years later.

by Michael Stills G2G6 Pilot (476k points)
selected by Lisa Ryals
I relate to that! It was joining wikitree that taught me all about sourcing! I am so grateful now but at first it seemed a mission too big, actually, it was a mission too big lol ... I've spent the last year and a half sorting out my mess! And indeed I too have had to disconnect a line or two. The reward though ... it's all done now, I found piles of new ancestors, and I'm now able to come back here and put it all online, one profile at a time. That too seems a daunting task but, I've already finished my father's maternal line and have just started on his paternal line. There is light at the end of the tunnel ... only about 400 profiles to go :/

The lesson, so well worth it. Thank you wikitree :)

* First my mother's father told us we are German.  Messmer.  It is French back to about the 1850 - 1840's..  The family was there for years. So not German, thy travel through Germany to get to the usa.

* second late 90's early 2000's I was new to geneology, I had the start of my tree. and I joined  One Great Family , Being new to the geneology, and the site, they made merges with out my concent.  Which Merge to people in my direct fathers line.


Andrew John Cassel 1832  Son of Peter Cassel & Elizabeth

this one Married twice.  

John William Cassell 1844 Son of George Cassell & Mahala Tout

Wife Mary Summers.  

My cue was I had 2 1800 census. Mary & John Were my line. so I had to delete all and add mary's info and John's back in then I found his gravestone, It was with his son Grant, It took 6 years, maybe 8, by then I had researched the cassel line back to Kassel, in Germany.  While there was in the research a George w Cassel & Mahala Tout, they were of 1900's.  So all the Cassel research was useless for me, accept for to teach me, don't let a web site mess with my research.  My George W Cassell & Mahala Tout were of the 1800's.  Still haven't found his parents, found a suspected brother John Cassell with him in 1840 (next door). He's my dead stop, He's oldest son is a pow, with stepfather, his father died before 1854, I wonder if his father died at war? and and William McQuatt to take care of his family.

The website did others but I just deleted the info.

see there is a family story Cassell, goes to war, before war gives mother large sum of cash and said, " buy land build a house, if I die, it is yours, If I don't I want my land and house back, or my money".  Well.. he goes to war, comes back and his mother will not give him back his land.  So.. the name changed from Cassell to Cassel..  so he was not Identified with his family.


My tree on Ancestry is now re-named Not Source Verified, for DNA matches only, so fellow genealogist will not copy my messy tree thinking it is correct.  I use it to put names in to try to come up with DNA matches so I can research them.

Thank you so much for caring about sources and stating my pre-wikitree mistakes.

fellow wikitreer,

+38 votes

When I first started collecting information from my older relatives many years ago, I wrote down the information, but not the source.  After all, I was only doing this for fun, and it was only for me.  Some relatives showed me family Bibles and old letters.  I know who gave me the information, but I just can't recall where exactly the information came from.  There is still some information I have with no valid source.  That's probably why I spend so much time on the Sourcerers Challenge each month - I'm still trying to make up for that awful mistake! 

I also wish I had tape recorded those interviews, since all those people are long gone.  It would be great to hear my grandfather's voice telling the story of his immigration from Greece.

by Star Kline G2G6 Pilot (570k points)
Oh Star! I feel your pain!  I also wish I had recorded my Father and Grandfather's voices telling stories.  What a treat that would be to have!
I know the feeling..after 30 years researching, I'm moving house (been here 27 years) so I'm going through some loose papers and discover a letter from the 1970s, to Aunt Alice, from Madge in Montreal, Canada...and I haven't a clue who Aunt Alice is, or who gave me the letter to start with...I wish I had been more focused with sourcing when I started.

I did the same when I started.  And once I did start putting sources in it was so frustrating - the number of times I said to myself "where did I find that information?"  It's the first bit of advice I give now when friends start on their tree - record your sources immediately!

+32 votes
Signing up for Ancestry and listening to the commercials.  Too many leafs that were't actually family.  Still cleaning out files.
by Living Harris G2G6 Mach 2 (20.2k points)
And when your subscription runs out, you have to send more money just to see your family tree.
Which is why I downloaded the GEDCOM.  Before it was cleaned up, which carried the errors over.
I'm with you on that one - I had so many leaves that didn't belong I needed a weed whacker to clean up my tree!
Agreed...  :/
And seeing the photos I loaded still showing up on their site, even after I took them all down. And I can't get to them without paying. Grr. Love WikiTree!
I hear you on that. I started with them for fun and was blindly adding information based on other's family trees. i connected the wrong Sprague line to mine and had to delete everything out when I realized I was following the wrong Isaac Sprague and later realized there were 2 of them born the same year in the same state with two different sets of parents.  I now verify everything with vital records and don't use Trees to add information to mine but only as a suggestion of possibilities to explore.
I did the same thing, accepting every "leaf" without checking the sources. I had to go back and verify everything a few years later and found several mistakes.
+31 votes
I guess it would be searching 29 years for my Native American heritage.Family members said we had Native American ancestry. Then earlier this year I had my DNA checked. It checked out at 0%.
by John Noel G2G6 Pilot (713k points)
If it's there it is so far back that it is very diluted.
I agree with Rosemary.  Unless your Native American ancestors were your great-great-grandparents or closer, this might simply be a limit of autosomal DNA testing.

Here is a nice article on this (based on Ancestry ethnicity results showing 0% Native American):
Thanks Ray, I may have to get another test done someday.
John we've always been told the same thing, and my Ancestry DNA said 0% as well, but a small percentage of Asian. My 3x great grandmother was 1/4 Cherokee, her father is on the Dawes rolls. I've since learned small percentages of NA can show up as Asian, so, mystery solved, at least for me.
Oh, and...when I uploaded to GEDMatch and did that analysis, it showed up Native American.m
Hello John,

You don't need another test.  You simply need to use GEDmatch's "Admixture proportions by chromosome".  Look for an Amerindian percentage on any one chromosome above 4%.
Thanks RAY!
Are you using the Dodecad V3 Admixture Proportions?
+21 votes
For me, I am still blown away by the fact that I spent dozens (and probably hundreds) of hours searching for the parents of my great-grandfather, Charles A. Jones (1870-1911), only to find out that his parents and grandparents were buried in a cemetery that is 5 minutes from my house.

The sliver lining for this is that this is my favorite line to study and I have had a great deal of success documenting these next two generations - both with traditional records and DNA evidence.  

The parents of Charles's grandfather, John H. Jones (1806-1878) have been my brick wall ever since.

I'm also embarrassed by the fact that I have not been able to identify where my great-grandfather, Fred Bender (1863-1936) was born in Germany - despite hundreds of hours of searching.
by Ray Jones G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
I just love silver linings! They sometimes justify my 'fumbling around in the dark' (not all the time but sometimes) :)
+23 votes
If not the most embarrassment, at least the most trouble is that when I first started out I noticed Stephen Dardinger in West Viriginia and in Hardin County, Ohio. Since his spouse seemed to be Mary or Marie or Maryanne, and there were children John and Mary and Jacob both places and Steven had birth dates broadly the same both places, I decided they must be the same family that had moved around.  Alas I let my tree be uploaded to who bundled up quantities of such family trees and sold them on disk as well as making them available to subscribers and quite a few people started quoting my findings.  Unfortunately I eventually arrived at the conclusion that they were two separate families (though I still suspect they're related.  So i fight a losing battle to make people understand I made a beginners mistake...sigh!
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (411k points)
+15 votes
I am not even sure that this is a mistake, but my grandfather always said that his mother was Irish, he was born in Scotland. My grandmother, in her records, spelled her mother in laws name Dougherty, but she got this from a record in Ohio. The earliest record I have found for the person in question has her name spelled Dogherty with a birth location of Scotland. Now is where the fun begins, on her death record it lists the fathers last name as Mcdonald. The original find-a-grave record I found for her had her listed in one cemetery but on the internment record It notes that she was moved about 1 year after her death to an entirely different cemetery miles away. It seems that every time I solve one problem with her line I find two more.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
Moving bodies around from place to place always frustrates me.  I know they occasionally have to re-intern our beloved relatives but the thought sends shivers down my spine...they use the term R.I.P. for a reason!
Yip I've just discovered 13 members of my family were moved about 50 years ago to make room for a new motorway. It's quite upsetting.
+24 votes
Mine would be posting in forums, hours spent researching, even sending emails and letters to 80+ year old men who MIGHT be my grandfather, with not one response. Only to have DNA results recently show the man on my father's birth certificate actually WAS his father. To be fair to myself, my grandmother did cast the shadow of doubt herself, but DNA doesn't lie. So, either he, or one of his brothers, is my grandfather. Either way, I don't care, because it just proved that my maiden name was not a lie! It gave me my identity back, which I felt was lost, because I didn't know my real grandfathers name. Now I do. End of self pity!
by Summer Orman G2G6 Mach 8 (87.8k points)
That's a great story Summer!  I admire your determination and am glad to see that it paid off.
+23 votes
For the longest time I thought my 4x-great-grandfather's first name was "Lepander", based on hand-written documents. Then one day I was looking at one and it dawned on me, "Oh, Lysander!"
by Stephen Reeves G2G5 (5.6k points)
Similar thing happened to me, saw handwritten Lalyette on census for 1910 and Lalayette on 1920 census.Finally on marriage license for 1922 found out his name was actually Lafayette - duh
+16 votes
My father told me we are German. We aren't. We are Irish , English , Scots and Welsh. On his male line. Same on his mother's side. Norman's are in there too. Unless  we are German on the women married in , I don't see any Germans for maybe a 1000 years. There is a Roach who married a German woman in the 1700s . Her child was killed before the age of one according to some records , but I would not be  her blood.  I have spent my whole life thinking I was German on my father's side. I expect more surprises.
by Anonymous Roach G2G6 Pilot (186k points)
+22 votes
This actually happened to my Grandpa Huckaby, my inspiration for volunteering to work on the world family tree and the true genealogist of our family. Though it was only one of my grandfather's hobbies he was incredibly dedicated and worked on the genealogy everywhere he went. Some years back, when he retired from his job as a public school teacher,another thing he worked tirelessly at, he and my grandmother got an RV and decided they would do some sight seeing for a bit. They went all over the place in that RV even took it to Australia on a boat. Every place that they traveled to my grandfather would get sold of a local phone book and look up family names. Then he would call them up and explain about his hobby,ask them questions about did they remember who their cousins and brothers and sisters were so that he could verify through records whether or not and where these people might fit in to his work. Well one time when they were in Georgia he picked up a phone book and was calling a lady with the surname Huckaby,which is a very British name being derived from a bridge in England. Well she seemed quite amenable answering all of his questions very politely but  unfortunately none of the relatives names that she was giving him would fit in anywhere within his family tree which at that time was quite extensive, such that he might have more accurately called it a family web. And when he apologised and told her that he didn't understand it but he had no clue as to where she and her family fit in the lady said in a heavy Georgia peach accent, " Why suh ah do b'live yowa white man, aunt you?" Now understand my grandpa is about as white as they come other than a tiny smattering of Blackfoot Indian that gave him a thick head of silver hair and his 7' tall stature his blood was German pioneer all the way back to the Pennsylvania Dutch and one of our more famous relatives, the first evangelist preacher in the new world Henry Ward Beecher.Needless to say he was quite taken aback by this and with his public school teacher enunciation replied," Yes ma'am I am white. Are you not also?" When the lady had finished laughing and caught her breath she explained that no she was not white she was black but that she could probably she'd some light on why none of her family could be found in my grandfather's research. It seems that in the southern states before the end of the civil war it was the practice for slaves to be identified as property of_______whatever their owners name was, therefore when slavery was abolished and the slaves were set free many of the former slaves took the last name of the person who owned them, which was why this woman shared a name but not a bloodline. At this my grandpa was pretty embarrassed and didn't know what to say .She had him tongue tied and red as a sugah beet.
by Teri Colson G2G Crew (860 points)
Teri - thanks so much for the best laugh I've had in a long time!  What a character that wonderful Georgia Peach was (and a good sport to boot)!
+19 votes
Mine has to be mistaking a photo for a photo of my Grandfather. The last sibling of my beloved Mum passed away in 2008 so there is now no first hand knowledge of my maternal Grandfather. One of her daughters had a keepsake box with many photos in which she gave to one of her sons when he started making a family tree on Ancestry (which is where I found the photo posted by him). None of us ever knew our Grandfather as he died before we were born, so we all assumed that as this photo was in the family keepsake box that it was him. I asked him if he would send me a copy of the photos he had which he did. Since I joined here I have had more of an interest in actually researching more about individual family members than just adding names and dates to my family tree, so I started researching my Grandfather, beginning with his war time years (as the photo was an army photo). I eventually found out that the uniform was that of a Royal Army Chaplain, that the pips on the shoulder denoted a captain and that he was awarded 3 medals. Then I hit the proverbial brick wall. Well, after exchanging a few emails with the curator of the Chaplaincy museum, I was asked to send the photo and all available details on my Grandfather, so he could help me locate the best place to resume research. Within minutes he sent me an email back thanking me for the information but unless I had my Grandfathers' name wrong that photo was not him. It was in fact Reverend O.D. Wiles who had been in both WWI and WWII and had been awarded more than just 3 medals. He even sent me the pdf file about him included in which was the exact photo we had. So now its back to square one on an almost blank page, a few "answered questions" back to unanswered and a mystery still to be solved.

So glad in this instance, you can't see the person sending the email, I was so red faced.
by Wendy Sullivan G2G6 Pilot (149k points)
Honest mistake but I would have also been mortified and red-faced :)  Hopefully your mystery will have an equally 'notable' history!
+25 votes
My most embarrassing mistake would be copying all of my husband's aunt's research to my Geni tree about 8 years ago. In my defense, I was new to family research and very inexperienced - and I'm sure her webpage did say right up front  that "anyone" was welcome to use the information in her GEDCOM (she denies this).  Well, when she found out, she blew her stack, accused us both of 'stealing', said that it took us only hours to copy & paste what took her 10+ years and lots of money & travel to discover. We apologised sincerely, we hadn't meant to do anything wrong, but the damage was done.  We remain estranged today.

I was wrong to plagiarize back then, but in the course of learning and doing better, I vowed to never be proprietary with my own research. The fact that I've spent x number of years and x dollars finding things out only means I'm happy for other researchers to build upon it so we can ALL benefit.  Perhaps that's what led me to WikiTree in the end. :)
by Vicky Majewski G2G6 Mach 8 (83.0k points)

I have 'run into' this type of relative before and have a little chuckle when they become so defensive "sharing highly resourced ancestry". I would much rather have my resourced information for all the world to see than something that maybe has a source that's maybe correct. I have always credited someone for their information.  I understand her wanting to have the credit but I give you huge kudo's for understanding WHY she was angry and LOVE that you decided to NEVER have proprietary family research!

IMO, there is no such thing as "proprietary family research"!  Family members SHARE these ancestors.  They do not belong to one person or family alone. To hoard info as a means of manipulating other family members is deplorable and dishonorable.  

I have seen this in my own family and have decided to give info to anyone who wants it.  Being stingy with your family's history is ridiculous.

I have not attempted to contact my stingy relative lately.  I have some great info that I would love to share with her but I truly do not want to have anything to do with her.  No matter what, she can have what info I've got.  I'm beginning to think that she may not have ANY new info.  She just wants her family  to believe this so that she can manipulate.  She is too old for that.  She knows better.
+13 votes
Allowing myself to be bullied by so called "Professionals"
by Living Knight G2G6 Mach 3 (35.8k points)
I haven't experienced that BUT I can just imagine - glad you were able to move pat the 'professionals' and do your own thing.
+15 votes
Presuming my husbands grandmother's middle name was a family name and having the church they attended in Glasgow going through all their records on to find the name had nothing to with anyone.
by J S G2G Crew (650 points)
Wow!  Thanks for your story about chasing down a middle name.  I started chasing my grandfather's middle name, "Clement", and discovered a patriot ancestor.  But it can go in ANY direction when we research a new line.  

One of my ancestors left her husband, moved to a French-speaking island near Quebec, assumed her maiden name, and remarried.  The priest penned her surname (Payne) according to the sounds he heard:  it came out Paein when she married and another variant at her death.  NO ONE in our family had any knowledge of this situation.  It''s been a rocky, rocky road to discover it.  Now, gulp, I'm considering submitting my DNA.
+16 votes
On my great grandfather's death certificate in New Zealand, it said that his father's name was George, so I searched and found a George who fitted so well. When I traced his lineage, I found out that, through his mother, this George was related to William Wilberforce. Woohoo. Then a professional took up the search, and found that my great-great- grandfather's name was actually THOMPSON, not George, and the family was in no way connected to the Wilberforces....sigh. THOMPSON? Where did that come from (eventually found out his grandmother was a Thompson) and why did his son's family list the  man as George? Wasted a lot of time barking up the wrong tree. LOL
by Susan Scarcella G2G6 Mach 7 (73.3k points)
Oh believe me, we've all 'barked up the wrong tree' one time or another :)
+15 votes
Working with my cousin to help prove our connection to Rob cousin even went to Scotland.   Only to find out that when our family came from FRANCE, the immigration officials wrote down the name of Wallis, as Wallace.
by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (756k points)
My sympathies, my family name of Liard is an alteration also, the original was Guyard.  Changed by clergy for my family.  Who knows why, it wasn't done with just one person in the family, got done as a blanket job.  Took a while to find the original name and close the gap.
+9 votes
I left my second son in a pram outside a pharmacy on the Isle of Wight and could missed out  a branch of my family tree
by John Martin G2G Crew (470 points)
Oh John, that must have been so scary for you, glad everything worked out safely,
+9 votes
My most embarrassing genealogy moment came because I posted all my research on a web page.  Apparently, my cousins didn't know their father was adopted.  Now they do.  

My grandmother was married twice.  She had a son with her first husband who decided fatherhood was not for him and left her pregnant and living with HIS parents.  She married my grandfather when my Uncle was 4 years old.  Funny thing is they are still researching my grandfather's family even though there is no blood relationship.  Seems weird to me.  It's not like I didn't tell them who they should be researching, right?
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (669k points)
Oh Lucy, I can totally relate - my Father's family didn't know about a half-sister - caused 'quite a stir' when I found her...
Deborah,   My sister married Brian.  Brian had raised a family by his first wife, in England.  My nephews had no idea that they had half-brothers or sisters anywhere in the world.

I haven't tried to trace Brian.  Maybe someday I will ask my wonderful WikiTree people to assist.

Meanwhile, I felt like I had shared one too many family stories.  Oops.

I guess one has to "take the good and the bad"

+8 votes

To be embarrassing, that means a lot of people had to see your mistake.

I had got a hint that Senator John McCain had an ancestor who owned 52 slaves and had served in the 5th Mississippi Cavalry.  That interested me because my ancestor also served in that same unit.  So I pulled up his records and found that name in the unit and LO and behold he was captured/or/deserted and died in a Memphis prison.  So I had to brag that MY ancestor served in the same regiment as Senator McCain's ancestor.  Forget that my ancestor rode with Forrest; he rode with McCain.  I even posted this on my website I created on the 5th Mississippi Cavalry regiment.

Well, I had the wrong Wm. A. McCain(McCane).  There were three people in Mississippi in the 1860 census.  I thought I had the right one because my ancestor and McCain's ancestor lived in the same county.  I wasn't the only one embarrassed.  Dr. Gates presented these "facts" on the PBS "Finding Your Roots".  Dr. Gates had the Senator on his show and presented this story.  I doubt he ever apologized for this error.

Senator John McCain's ancestor listed his occupation as a doctor.  He owned a plantation and 52 slaves.  He would not have enlisted as a private.  It is more likely he served as a doctor or used his business to support the Confederacy.  Also he was about a year over the age of military service.  He died during the war which makes it easier to confuse with the other Wm McCain of Koscuisko who also died around the same time.  

by Steve Cole G2G6 Mach 1 (18.8k points)

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