Question of the Week: What is the craziest online genealogy "fact" (really fiction) that you've come across?

+32 votes
What is the craziest online genealogy "fact" (really fiction) that you've come across? Do you remember where you spotted it at?
in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
Someone on an Ancestry tree found George md to  Rachel in 1850. In 1860 she found William same age as George md to Rachel of same age, so she renamed the husband George William. Fact: Rachel was 2nd wife of George who died c1858 so she md George's first step-cousin, a widower, as 2nd spouse and the researcher created a George William - a man who never existed and has no record anywhere. Both Geo and Wm were well identified in 2 adjacent townships.
I had trouble sorting out my grand daughter's father's family because he wouldn't give us any help.  I found his mother in two households during one census (mother's and sister's) then she was born in two different decades.  After a lot of searching I finally found the death certificate of her aunt who had died as a teenager.  Turns out she was named for her aunt, but no one seemed to have remembered that little tidbit.
The craziest thing I have seen multiple times is people putting information out on a family where the mother of the children would appear to be 3 years old when she gave birth to her first child.
I noticed a woman on wikitree who "had a child" when she was 98 and other irregularities. I was on the trusted list and thought that I was OK to make the correction, providing supporting primary sources but I got a terse message from the PM asking me if I had been reading dodgy published genealogies and pointed me towards the one he uses. I pointed out that I never take my info from genealogies, I only use primary sources for all of my additions to wikitree but if I have done something in error, then I apologize as occasionally these things happen. I also asked had he tried the (then relatively new) error report? I got a message back thanking me for the heads up about the error report and apologizing as he found he'd made an error himself and had now corrected it.
I wish more people would run the error report.
I know what you mean.  I've had several issues with people posting wrong names, wrong marriages, changing what they believed to be nicknames to "more appropriate names" for my gr grandparents and grandparents.  I also only use legal documentation and our family Bibles passed down through generations.  Some people are very concientious and will correct things, others ignore you or refuse to acknowledge they made a mistake.  Had to prove to a cousin one time that he'd erroneously assumed a congressman was our relative.  It took 2 newspaper articles and a talk with the congressman's son to get the guy to give in and remove the information from our family tree.
My gr grandpa, Herman Prell's birth certificate and some censuses, too, have him born "at sea", or "Atlantic Ocean" as place of birth. I was always told he was born on the boat from Prussia in 1867, but now have true documents that state it. However, some records say New York, his port of entry. I felt so bad for his mom, expecting AND giving birth on such a long voyage!
I think this is why my great grandmother did not return to the US with her husband, not wanting to make the voyage while pregnant. They went back to Italy together, but she didn't make the trip back with him.
The craziest non-fact fact I’ve come across is this: My birth father (let’s call him “Leroy”) had an illegitimate daughter (let’s call her “Dorothy”) who, somehow, came to live with him during her teen years (she thought he was her uncle) and used his last name as her own. She introduced my mother to her “uncle” who was really her father, and my mother and this “uncle” got married a relatively short time after the introduction. I just came across several family trees on that had this young lady married to my birth father – these trees also showed his marriage to my mother. I cannot even imagine how anyone could come up with the idea that “Dorothy” was married to “Leroy.” Not only is “Leroy” the father of “Dorothy,” but he was married to my mother during the time he was shown to have been married to his daughter.
My 4th great grandfather had a daughter listed in 2 Census. Once finding her death certificate she was really the Grandaughter. Also, in the 1880 Census their was a Niece listed. My grandfather, 2nd & 3rd grandfather were male only childs. I traced the 2nd marriage wife to be the aunt.

Lori RandolphKing-13252 might be the same persona as Chockla King

55 Answers

+20 votes
Best answer
I was working through an Ancestry tree of an experienced genealogist in another country and came upon a person named "Anne Cesterone". Uncharacteristically, there were no facts and no sources associated with the person. I wrote and asked. He replied that I should say it out loud. Duh. He uses that coded name so that he can quickly find the root of his tree.
by Jim Moore G2G6 Mach 1 (14.5k points)
selected by Valerie Willis
That's both hilarious and ingenious.
+32 votes
Yes, someone had my family in their tree posted on-line and had me dead.  I informed her I wasn't and how was she related.  She didn't know, was from some gedcom someone had sent her.
by James LaLone G2G6 Mach 5 (58.4k points)
That sort of thing usually comes from someone using an obit, say. and putting in d = after the obit date and then another person dropping the "after".  Another possibility is for a child named after his father dying young and the father being given the child's death date.  I've had that happen twice in my own lines.

A misquote of Mr. Mark Twain has him responding to something along these lines, James. It is not only appropriate, but humorous. "The recent reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."  

I could have kept quiet, it would be factual at some point in time.
+34 votes

I don't know where I found it, but it was about 10 years ago, and the site sure looked official. I found an ancestor, and out of curiosity, just kept going back, past Old King Cole, until I got to Odin, Woden and Frigg, where the line stopped.

Odin, Woden and Frigg became a family joke and our silly answer to as many questions as possible, like:

  • "Guess who I saw at work today?" 
  • "Who's in that movie you wanted to see?"
  • "What's for dinner?"
by Carole Partridge G2G6 Mach 7 (71.2k points)

Funny you should bring up Odin / Óðinn / Wōden / Wuotan / Wōtan / wōđanaz 

Guess who showed up in my research . . . lol .

Look in this profiles Biography, Notes & Further Study Needed: 

Funny thing that I have "South Asian" 0%-4% DNA. JPVIV :)


Recon' I saw Elvis at Wal-Mart last night.... I mean Odin :)
After that, John, I'm all shook up! Enjoy the holiday.
I once ran across one "Odin Wotan" on one of the big genealogy sites (it may even have been this one, but if so, he's been removed since then).  And his line didn't stop there. He was apparently the many-times-great grandson of one of the Roman emperors.
I see, Chris.

Clearly the site I was using didn't have researchers who had worked hard enough. Otherwise they would have found more ancestors. ;-)

I think the line I saw must have gone back to Scandinavian kings, which of course had to descend from gods, or the royal genealogists would have found themselves without jobs (and heads).

Chris Wagner , I left this off of the above list.

Caesar Augustus:

http://Caesar Augustus .


Odin, Wodin, and Frigga were real people. They were made to be 'gods' by their descendants. Just as the Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt claimed to be 'gods' while alive and were venerated once dead, so were these men. There is a lot of history on these men and where they came from. One source, "After The Flood", by Joe Cooper, gives you this history and gives the resources he used and where to find them. He spent more than 25 years researching and his sources are real. It is a free pdf online.

Not sure if your really go back to them, perhaps, but they were real people with real histories.
Thanks Lori, this was a great contribution and given source to this discussion.
Thanks, Rod. I just reread this book again this week as it is so full of information. I downloaded the pdf onto my computer, but then I printed it out so I could read it wherever I wanted to read. It took me the better part of 4 days to read as I had other things to do, but it is a very interesting read. I also read the resources he gives as they are amazing. Some people may find his book hard to believe, but his sources are amazing.

Lori Smith , where would I find this PDF please? I would like to have a look-see. Thank You, JPVIV :)

NVM I found it. / After the Flood by Bill Cooper . .


+21 votes
Working in the European Aristocrats project, 'fact' really fiction genealogy is the proverbial 'a dime a dozen'. (See Carole's answer)

My favourite is perhaps, the number of families that have an ancestor who came over to England with William the Conqueror.  Some peerage/gentry publications of the 19th century like Burkes are probably the main culprits of making these outlandish claims look respectable.

I also like the number of emigrants who decided to misrepresent themselves, or the genealogists, mainly again of the 19th century, who decided that a emigrant ancestor with a similar name to a famous family in England, must of belonged to that family.

Unfortunately much of this has found its way to Wikitree, and it can be quite difficult to determine fact from fiction.
by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (542k points)
John, maybe "Coming over with William the Conqueror" is worth a whole new G2G question.

I have an ancestor mentioned in a family genealogy as "coming over with William the Conqueror". I never knew what the author meant.

Did the ancestor fight at the Battle of Hastings? (I don't think so!) Was he part of William's entourage/court? (Highly doubt it.) Maybe he came to England soon after the battle? (Possibly, but how did the author know?) Maybe someone with a French version of that surname showed up in English records 200 years after the Norman conquest? (That part is true.)

I've never bothered to follow up, because I have my hands full just trying to find the first American immigrant ancestors in so many other lines.
Carole, I think coming over with William the Conqueror is usually interpreted as being present at the Battle of Hastings, but iit could be any of the other options you mention.

I think from memory, that an analysis of all the sources contemporary to the actual Battle, or soon after revealed that there are only something like 26 named individuals on the Norman side who can definitely be said to have fought in the Battle of Hastings.  Though obviously his army was much bigger than that.

The other major source for identifying who might have come to England from Normandy is the Domesday Book.

There are at least two popular false assumptions associated with William the Conqueror. One is that everyone who did come with him must have been Norman. To the contrary, he was supported not only by his own army but also by troops from elsewhere in France and troops from Flanders - his wife being the princess Matilda of Flanders. The other false assumption is that all Normans must have had Viking ancestry. The truth is that the Viking settlement in what became Normandy did not displace the native French, and the two came eventually to a pretty peaceful coexistence. Thus, many Normans had no Viking blood at all.

My mother's maiden name was Lee and it seems that every family with the Lee surname is sure that they are related somehow to Robert E. Lee.

We thought we had it proved, but the Lee Society of Virginia discovered a fraudulent entry in their books.  The entry happened to be the one that connected us to Robert E. Lee.
+15 votes

Well at MyHeritage I've had the premarital, dead-in-infancy daughter of the paternal grandparents of my paternal grandmother hijacked (with as many ancestors as I had researched at the time) and married off to a blacksmith.

I did the research to find the correct parents for the smith's wife and sent this to the owner of the tree - who answered that he'll correct it when he gets the time to do so. This was three years ago and nothing has happened :-)

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (501k points)
+15 votes
I think that the famous Elizabethan clown, William Kemp, was actually the son of my ancestor, Sir Thomas Kempe. To believe this is to completely misunderstand the class system that existed in England until recently. I had other ancestors in the late 1800s who, though they came from wealthy families, became actors, and were sent, by their families, in disgrace to Australia, never to return. How much more reprehensible would it have been for the true son of a grand landowner in the 16th/17th C to have turned entertainer. And, despite proof of the son of Thomas Kempe being buried with honours in the family church, people still write on genealogical sites, that the clown is Sir Thomas' son.
by Susan Scarcella G2G6 Mach 7 (73.3k points)
+15 votes

We know that we can discover fascinating and genuine facts about our family heritage over the internet. Now we are getting to the blunt reality of online genealogy. There are many in the web realm who initiate or propagate fabricated stories about our ancestors. The most egregious myth concerning our family, even though it was refuted long ago by academic historians and genealogists alike, is that my 9th great grandmother Anneke Jans Bogardus was the granddaughter of William the Silent. She was actually born on an Island off of Norway named Vleckere, then later moved to Netherlands with her mother, a midwife. Anneke first married Roeloff Janssoon in Amsterdam in 1623, but not as a princess. They have a great story as a young family emigrating to New Netherland in 1630, but some people don't have time for research as they are too busy spreading fairy tales.          

by Rod DuBois G2G6 Pilot (182k points)
+16 votes

My husband's grandfather ( was raised, after his mother died when he was about three months old and his father left him, by his maternal grandparents.  He took their last name and is listed with them in subsequent censuses until his late teens identifies him as "grandson".  Someone never noticed that and all of the family trees on two of the other major genealogy sites have quoted that inaccuracy and have him listed as a brother of his own mother.  I am probably the last person alive that can correct this misidentification, but cannot get it corrected so far.  "We will note it",  not correct it.

by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (401k points)
edited by Beulah Cramer
Isn't it frustrating to have people respond that way when you try to share facts that contradict their fiction?
Yes, Loretta.  I hope to keep the record alive long enough in the grandchildren coming on so that someday it will be corrected.  At least, to the ones that really may need to know the ancestry some day, the truth may be available.
+19 votes
I started on with my husband's tree. I followed one lengthy tree back to Pocahontas. After we stopped laughing, I decided I'd better do my own research. I write a blog and many of my post deal with dispelling myths. My most recent article is about a man who left Ireland for Virginia. Over the years he went from a simple immigrant to a Irish rebel who tried to claim the Irish throne, fought off Cromwell's puritan forces astride a white horse only to be vanquished and deported with his 22 children and a boatload of household goods, including thoroughbred horses. Of course no one can provide a single piece of evidence to prove he lived never mind all his other deeds.
by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (129k points)
Hi!  I'm curious as to why you found a connection with Pocahontas something to cause you to laugh.  Was it something that you found along the way?  Or did you find this an implausible outcome?  Were you following a tree that someone else had posted?  I ask these questions because (1) I am related to Pocahontas, (2) I have followed trees posted by others on Ancestry and other sites and I know they are often fraught with many errors especially made by those who are more interested in padding their trees than they are in accuracyk (3) I have located information that someone posted that included my paternal great-great-grandfather.  The information was incorrect.  I posted a note identifying the error and providing the correct information but they refused to correct the error, (4) I have used some of these trees to suggest possible places and people to search for and have been successful.  

I would like to hear the details of your experience if you are willing to share.  Depending on your experience if you would like some assistance, I am volunteering.  I don't consider myself an expert but I have been doing this for over 15 years and have over 75,000 people in my database (That is possible only because I am working on all 8 of my g-grandparents at the same time.)  It is also interesting (to me at least) that about half of these people are kin through my maternal grandmother.  My 1st g-grandmother married a Conant--the family male line.  My 5th g-grandmother also married a Conant.  Both of these women were of royal descent.  I got so excited about the royal/noble ancestors I expanded to include kin and kin-of-kin.  My royal ancestry/kin extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Scandinavia to Sicily, Cyprus, and the Holy Land, and from 300 BC to the present.  It seems not much is impossible if you search far enough.  If you laughed because it seemed implausible, it just might be true.

I'm anxious to hear from you.
Marcellyn ,  I have no relation to Pocahontas .  But my father told me when I was little. " 'Our folks bought land from Pocahontas'  family"   Yeah , right  dad.  I set out to prove they didn't , well they did.  I set out to prove I have no relations to Royalty only to find a large portion of Americans actually are.  But it was a small world at one time and we are all related to everyone.  I am astounded at connections to each other.
I, too, am astounded at the connections one to another.  My mother had told me we were descended from William the Conqueror and she showed me the line.  When she died, I inherited all of her genealogy.  I began by proving that line.  Then began to expand on it.  The long and short of it is I found that I am related to almost all medieval royalty in Eurasia except the southeast.  AND that relationship starts at this end from two women, my 1st and 5th g-grandmothers, who married Conant men--Conant was my maternal grandmother's maiden name.  That is when I decided to extend my genealogy beyond ancestors and include kin and kin-of-kin.  Since I am retired, I have a lot of time to spend on it and it gives me great pleasure.  Thanks for sharing.
+17 votes
I was doing some research on my Flaugher immigrant ancestor on Ancestry. I usually ignore the online trees, but it was one of those annoying days when they were popping up first in the search results. I noticed that the first several trees had the immigrant married to his daughter-in-law so I searched within the trees and found over 200 trees with the false information added. That's 200 times no one questioned why a woman was 8 years old when her husband died and had 3 children over the age of 20. I could understand the mistake if records weren't available to verify this information, but in this instance, the original marriage record for her and her rightful husband are all over the internet, including Ancestry and on free sites like FamilySearch.

I thought I would do my good deed for the day, rolled up my sleeves and sent over 200 messages to the tree owners, pointing out the mistake and citing the proper sources. Not one person responded. It wasn't long after that I joined WikiTree! ;-)
by Alison Andrus G2G6 Mach 4 (46.8k points)
The same happened to me on My Heritage and and I had to start from scratch all over again for some branches of the tree, the instant discoveries were a nightmare, copying over other  people's mistakes.
Zoe, you are right! The mistake was done by just one person, but once it was done, it was copied over into all those other trees. I'm finding that I much prefer to add one profile at a time to WikiTree rather than upload a GEDCOM. For one thing, I'm still cleaning up the one I added when I first joined! And I find I really enjoy taking a profile through all the steps of writing a biography and adding all the sources to give it the attention it deserves and hopefully become a lasting memorial to that person's memory.
I, too, have ancestors posted by others whose data is totally incorrect but they are not about to correct the information even when provided with primary data to the contrary.  My paternal g-grandfather Marcus was born in 1834 in Ohio.  A sister was born in 1838 and another in 1840.  The trees in error show Josiah was their father and Anne Margaret their mother.  But there is a marriage certificate dated 1840 for Josiah and Ann Margaret.  As soon as I saw that I said to myself, Josiah had a first wife who was the mother of Marcus and his younger sister.  Because I don't know the date of birth in 1840, I don't know who the mother was but I suspect the mother, Cynthia, died in childbirth or shortly thereafter and Josiah, having two children under 10 and a newborn baby found he needed a wife somewhat quickly.  He may already have known Ann Margaret.  This was her first marriage.  How can anyone accept that a woman married in 1840 could be the natural mother of a child born in 1834?  This is beyond my comprehension.

Thanks for letting me share.
+11 votes
I have a genuine family connection through land passed down in perpetuity to Scotland's Robert the Bruce, (probably not a genetic connection though). On another website, another branch of the family supposedly links to William Wallace or Brave heart, which of course cannot be proven. Fascinating stuff!
by Fiona McMichael G2G6 Pilot (184k points)
+12 votes
I once came across a site where the person claimed Henry VIII. Problem was, there were 357 names in his immediate family. There were 7 Anne Bolynes, each with a different spelling. Six Catherine of Aragons,  5 Ann of Cleves, 5 Catherine Howards and 4 Jane Seymours, each with multiple children. There were 4 women listed as wives who may have been mistresses. Some of these women had dozens of children. There were 20 or so just listed as child, son or daughter. There were 57 listed as Henry Fitzroy. Close as I can figure it, he must have Smart Match Merged dozens of Matches without once looking at the names. Just pile up the numbers. Don't verify anything. Only the numbers mean anything to him.
+15 votes
As have many others, the craziest thing I have come across is the trees with mothers being born many years (up to a century) after their putative children, and mothers having children into their 80s. Modern medicine being what it is, there may soon be someone in her 80s giving birth, but it certainly couldn't have happened way back in the 1700s. It is possible for any one of us to make a keying mistake in entering numerical data, but even old family history software comes up with an error message if the dates don't make sense. Wish Ancestry had something similar.
by RoseMary X G2G Crew (850 points)
Yes, no one looks at dates and realizes they don't make sense!
I was just  researching a man with 21 sibblings.  Turns out his father married 4 women.  But I had a friend who bore 19 children by natural birth.  11 of them lived passed 2 years.  She also out lived 5 husbands.  She had her first child 2 days after her 14 birthday.
+13 votes
My Gran was insistent that my grandfather was his fathers 5th child and his mothers 1st. Found his parents wedding certificate. They needed a special license to get married as they were very young, she was 19 he was 23. They had my grandfather the following year. The certificate states that he had never before been married and had no children. I can only think now that the four elder "brothers" must be cousins or something, they definitely aren't siblings!
by Brenda Huber G2G3 (3.3k points)
+12 votes
I have two and don't know which is worse. One is that my earliest known patrilineal ancestor is proven to have been born in Ireland in 1753 yet somehow was brother to a man born in New Jersey in 1753 while - at the same time - the New Jersey guy's siblings also were born in New Jersey, some before 1753 and some after. Their parents must have been jet-setters. ;-)

The other has to do with the Lynns of that Ilk in Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland. They owned their minor barony, and lived in Ayrshire, continuously from the 13th century to the death of the last chief in 1670 ... yet one of the later generations is reported in an online family tree to have been born in Norway to Bard Pa Lein - a spelling which, by the way, never appears once in the Scottish record of the Lynns of that Ilk.
by Loretta Layman G2G6 Mach 3 (36.8k points)
+16 votes
I found a note in the baptismal record for one of my husband's ancestors that the baby was born with two heads (and obviously did not survive).
by Liza Gervais G2G6 Mach 9 (95.0k points)
+13 votes
One of my family lines is Wright of SC, James Wright 1745-1825 to be exact. At this point in time I was new to genealogy  and I found other family trees noted his father as James Alexander Wright AKA The last Royal Governor of Georgia. I got excited, told my Dad (91y) who was so super impressed he told everyone. JAW did have a son with the same name and birth/death dates and all I had to do was google to find out he died without issue. I had to wait till my father passed before I could change my online tree:-)
by Randy Williamson G2G4 (4.8k points)
+11 votes
A researcher of the Harkins in South Caroline/North Carolina/Georgia regions decided that the unknown patriarch of the family who died between 1830 and 1840 must be named James as that was the most common name in the descendants.  She wrote this up in her 'book' in the 1950's and it has been stated as fact ever since.  

My research of land records and census records (courthouses burned in many of the counties) suggest that it was actually John.  I have asked countless people for decades what proof they have on James and they all point back to the one researcher.   

The fun part is that there are several lines of Harkins and Hawkins in the area and they all claim records that are not theirs because of the common names and location.
by Catherine Ryan G2G6 Mach 2 (23.9k points)
+12 votes
I was disturbed to see a professional genealogist on the Genealogy Roadshow episode that aired 5/31/16 from Houston, who showed a document that the client's ancestor had placed his mark on. She explained that it was unusual for a former slave of the time to know how to write because of his signed name on the document. Actually there was a big "X" in the middle of the signature, "his mark".

Clearly, there would NOT have been an 'X' if the gentleman knew how to write, there would just have been his straight signature. This was the standard format when a signature was required of an illiterate person.  A clerk would write the name around the X.  Obviously, it was not a reflection on the ancestor's intelligence, just on the system that prevented him from obtaining an education. But I hope the host corrected her information for the client before he started bragging about his 'learned' ancestor, and was humiliated by someone who knew better. (And as a mere amateur genealogist, I'm quite shocked that the professional did not know better!)
by Helen Thompson G2G Crew (710 points)
+12 votes
I've dispelled some family myths during the course of my research, such as my grandmother's old claim that we were related to Jesse James.

Another commonly repeated myth was that we were from Ireland, but extensive research has proven that this was untrue. It's been crazy to see what I'd always accepted as truth proven wrong! After all, you can't be born in Ireland and have your birth registered as Illinois, with census records and similar records backing up the birth, in addition to more than 5 generations BEFORE being born in the same place...*head spinning crazily*
by Living Wymer G2G1 (1.1k points)
My fictitious tree has yellow fever, betrayal, stolen law books and false beliefs by the ones who blasphemous the true creators but I forgive b3cause were never racist. Do our best and trust.
My grandmother often remarked she was related to Jesse James, because HER mother's maiden name was "Howard"...go figure.

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+19 votes
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