I love researching my family history. I also love helping others with their own research. I have held or participated in many discussions regarding tracing a family’s history, and after listening to so many people as well as from my own personal experience, your grandma was not always correct!
I became interested in genealogy when I was a young girl at my grandparents’ home. There was a large chart laid out with a lot of names and circles and lines connecting one another. There were also some handwritten notes by my great grandmother that indicated my great great great great grandfather had married the granddaughter of King George III. Wow! This was just the spark that a ten year old child needed to become interested in her family history! I took that bit of information, and started on my journey.
My royal duty as a Princess-in-waiting and 5,000th in line to the throne came to a sudden halt when I realized that King George III was only three years old when his supposed “granddaughter” was born. So I stopped expecting a summons from the Queen of England, and began to look at what information I knew was correct. At that point it really didn’t matter, because I had already discovered so many interesting facts about my family.
I write this post simply for the fact that as a new genealogist it is very easy and very tempting to take undocumented information as the truth just so you can add another step back on your tree. There are many family trees on the internet, and most are unsourced. Even on Ancestry.com many people do not use the “hints” (the little green leaves that wave) properly. These are hints and suggestions. They are not absolute proof. I keep getting a leaf for my grandfather’s service in WWII. Guess what? My grandfather was not in WWII. There was another man with the same first and last name living in the same county who was in WWII, but not my grandfather. And it wasn’t long before I found a family tree that indicated my grandfather was in WWII. I contacted the owner of that tree and advised them that my grandmother was still living and said that my grandfather was not in any war. The owner told me that my grandmother must be mistaken because ancestry told her he was! Umm, ok???
Libraries hold many self-published family histories as well as submitted charts and trees. These also should be treated with caution. Unless the information has sources listed (and some do) do not assume that the information is correct.
That being said, unsourced information can be a very useful tool. It can be a guide as to where to look next. I was once having trouble locating any information on my great great grandfather, and then a distant cousin wrote in a letter that when he came home from the war (Civil War), he was changed. I used that bit of information to find a service record, which lead me to a birth year, which lead me to a census record when he was a child, and that put me back one more generation. So these unsourced resources are not without merit, but they should be used as a guide.
Regardless what your purpose for researching your family, it will be much more worth your time if you follow the proof rather than look for information to fit into a story you are hoping to find. If you want to join the DAR, follow your family line rather than look for a Patriot of the same surname and force your line into that Patriot’s tree. People with the last name Jefferson are not all related to Thomas Jefferson. Enjoy your own history and if you happen to fall into a category you are looking for, that’s great. But just remember, every family has some really fascinating stories!