3 Tips to Analyze Genealogical Evidence

By Diane Haddad

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Home office with a desktop computer displaying two types of genealogy records.
You’ve found the genealogy record or document you need – but how do you tell if it’s legitimate? A few practical steps will make sure your sources are good and your genealogy research stays error-free.

Want to keep incorrect birth and death dates and misattributed relatives out of your family tree?

Before you’re lured in by the excitement of a new genealogy discovery in a family story, an hint or an online family tree; take some time to ensure that those “facts” are safe. These measures will help:

1. Evaluate the Source

Examine the sources attached to the information. Do they support the researcher’s conclusions? If not, or if you don’t find sources associated with the event in question, research the claims. Be wary of “hints” on major genealogy websites and be sure to vet the information before adding the new information to your family tree.

If you have an online family tree, you’ve likely seen “hints” to related records or other family trees. Here are 10 rules for evaluating and using hints.

2. Determine Validity

Determine the validity of the source. Is it an original record, such as a passenger list? An index that points to the record? A transcription? The further you get from the original record, the more likely errors have been introduced. Try to find primary sources for the information you’ve discovered. Consider consulting classic genealogy reference books like Evidence Explained to determine how to analyze different sources.

3. Measure the Time

Evaluate the time between the event and when the source you’ve found was created. People relying on their memory of a date or place may not remember it accurately. A passenger list is likelier to have the correct immigration date than a census record created decades later. A birth or baptismal record made soon after a person’s birth is likelier to have his correct birth date and place than a biographical sketch written in their 50th year. Creating timelines is a useful exercise to make sure you don’t have conflicting information in your research.

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