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Best Practices for Adding Data to Family Trees

If you have gotten excited about finding more about your family history, you probably have tried to find information on the internet.

While information in other trees can be useful, proper pre-cautions and awareness should be taken when copying any data that you find, as it should be verified before adding it to your tree. By adding historical facts that are not verified, you could be compounding folklore or historical fiction. You should write down only what you can prove. The information that may look identical to your ancestor doesn’t necessarily mean that genealogy record is for your ancestor.

What is Believable and what Requires Verification?

So how do you know what historical details are immediately believable versus what requires verification?

  • Some trees are created or extended by copying data from online public websites. Caution should be taken when the information is not properly source verified.
  • Some people create or extend their trees by adding data from distant memories, partially remembered stories, or assembled from assumptions and guess work.
  • Trees have been made available to mislead other researchers by intentionally or carelessly distributing or publishing inaccurate historical facts.

Analyze the information for facts. Does the information have cited sources to back up the data? Can you reasonably extract collaborating evidence for what is being presented? It is important to come to a sound conclusion for each person that you are adding to your tree, that they are part of the family, the relationships can be verified, as well as any facts that are being added.

Where to Begin your Family Tree Research

If you are new to genealogy, start by going to a family history center or your local library and get some assistance. It is the perfect place to learn how to compile family trees and put them into a shareable format. While starting out, talk to other genealogists; with their experience they can give hints and tips that they have learned.

The digitization of paper records has helped hobbyists do research in the comfort of their own homes. Genealogists used to rummage through dusty old county courthouses if they wanted to unearth documents to unlock your ancestral history. That doesn’t mean you will find everything about your forefathers on the computer. Only a fraction of records are available on the internet.

Compiling your Historical Evidence

Once you start to build your story, you will learn there are different ways to assemble your data collection. Tracking your information by pen and paper is not the easiest to capture and manipulate your research and the data added to family trees.

Using a program that provides various reports and lists will help you to stay focused and evaluate your progress. You can also print out different information that will help you visualize where you are missing information and should spend time doing research. Another benefit of using a genealogy program is the program's ability to organize your data by event, people, media, sources, notes, etc. This is helpful for hobbyists so they can easily manipulate their data.

Sources Verify Your Genealogical History

Before you get buried with information, decide what type of information and records you want to look for. Keep focused with your goal by devising a fact-finding plan. Being organized and knowing as much as possible about the area your ancestor lived in and what documents are available for the time period that you are trying to research will help you immensely in tracing your family tree.

Sources are the documents that verify your family’s story. They come in the form of written documents. The most believable documents are the ones that are filled out by the ancestor, such as an SS-5 form (the application to get a social security card), birth, marriage, and death certificates, wills, probate, and military pension applications.

Most libraries and family history centers offer access to internet data from around the world, and can provide assistance to order records from other countries. In many cases library patrons also can get free access to popular subscription-based databases.

Documenting your Research

After finding a source, it is important to document where you found your information; this is known as the repository. You should also write down all the information about the publication, like is it a microfilm, a book, etc. Jot down everything that is important in order to find that source again; this is known as the source citation. Include data such as who is the publisher and author, the title, page number, etc.

Always Have a Backup of your Data

Everyone has lost something either on accident or because a natural disaster occurred. Your genealogy endeavor will take many years and many hours of research. Don't let your hard work of creating accurate family trees disappear. Have a backup of your data on paper, on a separate computer, in the cloud through a disk storage provider, or through an online genealogy website.