Why are there so many database mistakes?

April 7, 2012

At some point in your genealogical research, you’re going to either make or find mistakes. If you have a public document, such as a death or birth certificate, it’s a good idea to let the person making the mistake know about it.

Why are there so many database mistakes

 I want to strongly caution everyone there are a lot of mistakes on online genealogical sites. One of the reasons is the desire to dig as far back into the family as possible. Don’t make the mistake of quantity taking priority over quality.
When you go online, be cautious about recording any information without a public record source to back it up. A lot of people just copy what they find and learn that person copied from someone else. Too bad ALL of them were wrong and were going on speculation and not facts.

This is a major, major problem and has really hurt to databases set up to help us all connect our information together. Some of the common errors are:

*Father too young or died out of the time frame possible for him to have fathered the child.

*Mother under age 10 or over age 50 at the time of a child’s birth.

*Mother listed as having too many children. Women did have a lot of children in previous centuries. Keep in mind a person may have listed all “fathered” children without keeping in mind the father may have been married several times. Many women died giving birth and the men remarried soon after to find a woman to care for his children. Just because a woman is listed in the census records as a wife doesn’t necessarily make her the mother of all of the listed children.

*Multiple dates listed on multiple databases for the same person. This happens all the time. Try to better determine this fact through birth or death certificates or by how old a person is listed in a will. You would be better leaving the dates off than the list incorrect ones.

*People use their first name on one census and their middle on the next. This creates the impression for the genealogist to believe these are two different people when the information is compiled. Keep in mind a census record may have been given to the census recorded by a child who didn’t know the dates to give. Census records weren’t very concerned with who gave the information. They were often incorrect, but the 1900 records are the worst(see paragraph below).

It’s best to have a source available for each event in an ancestor’s life as you may be called forth by someone on where you got your information. To be able to say “it was on the death certificate” is a lot better than saying “I just copied it from someone else.” Serious genealogists learn the importance of quality references. Yes, there CAN be 100 people with wrong information on one ancestor because they all copied from each other.

Also, keep in mind family members may give you the wrong dates on someone while conducting an interview. Trust a written down date more than one coming off the top of the person’s head. The month or the year may be wrong.

One database I’ve found countless mistakes on is the 1900 U.S. Census records. This census lists the month of a person birth. I don’t understand why this particular census had so many errors. Don’t trust it when entering information on an ancestor without another record to back it up. I’ve found as high as 80% of the “month of birth” data were wrong.

“Just the facts, please” should be your motto when compiling and uploading your records. Keep in mind people may be using your information for generations to come. You want it to be correct for future genealogists.


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