How to Assess a Genealogy Website for Trustworthiness

The internet is overflowing with genealogical information.  If you have an account with Ancestry or MyHeritage, then it’s super easy to access other people’s family trees.  Having access to so much information makes it very easy to hook on to somebody else’s research.  Just connect the people in their tree with yours, and there you go – a whole other branch added!  But how do you know if you can trust what you’ve just added?

Check the Basics

A well researched tree makes sense.  Dates line up like you would expect, no-one has died before their wife was born, and children didn’t marry their grandparents.  If a person happens to have the same name and similar birth dates, at least make sure they are noted in the correct region of the same country.  Per Andersson born 1 Apr 1866 in Illinois is NOT the same as Per Andersson born 1 Apr 1866 in Bygdeå, Sweden. It may sound obvious, but I have seen each and all of these situations many times over.  At the very least, start by doing a good old sense-check. Due diligence rules!

Are they *Yours*?

In countries where personal names were few and surnames patronymic, it is incredibly easy to confuse one person with another.  One particularly awkward moment happened to me when I was SURE I’d found the correct person, and merrily carried on my research.  Only to, a week or so later, discover that there were two Johan Peterssons born one day apart in the same parish.  Naturally, I’d latched on to the wrong one, and had to re-do my work.  I could easily have avoided this situation if I’d simply double-checked the birth record before I spent time entering all of the wrong Johan’s various ancestors into my database.

How do They Know?

The ultimate litmus test is to check for thorough source referencing.  If a researcher whose work you overlap with doesn’t have references to primary sources, then make a note of it, but do not enter it into your own family tree.  Use the information as a hint, and look up all the facts yourself in the original sources.  It may sound tedious and like doubling up on work, but it’s the only way to be certain that the work they’ve done is correct.

If they do have sources, you should still double-check their work. It’s easy to slip up even for the most experienced genealogist. A simple typo of the month could cause endless amounts of trouble.  And it really doesn’t take that long to check.  If the sources they’ve provided are accurate, all you need to do is look up the right page in the relevant book and make sure it says what you expect it to say.

By double-checking other people’s research before merging it with your own, you’re ensuring the quality of your work.

What’s your experience of checking (or not checking) sources? Leave a comment and let me know.



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