I got a call from a prospective client this past May who had been doing his own genealogy for a few months. He had traced his ancestry all the way back to the first King of Scotland. However, something was nagging at him. He had three census documents for his grandmother and all three had different ethnicities listed for her. One census records said she was Scottish, one said Scots-Irish, and the last one said Ireland. I asked him how he had traced his grandmother’s entire family so far back in just a few years. His answer was this – By following the leaves on Ancestry.com.
I get this answer a lot from prospective clients. Some people assume all information on Ancestry.com is correct – it is not. I don’t think people understand that those leaves are generated by other member submitted trees. And the majority of the time, those members do not have the proper documentation to back up their claims. I’ve met many people who are Mayflower Descendants or are related to royalty or celebrities, however when asked where there documentation is, people usually look at me like they don’t understand what I am talking about. People need to understand that not everyone is related to someone famous. To be sure of your research you need to document, document, and document it again using more than just leaves, but by obtaining actual vital records, census records, naturalization records, military records, passenger lists, etc. And the best piece of advice I can give is to never take someone else’s research at face value. How do you know where they got their information?
This is how the story ends. The man who was related to the first King of Scotland became my client. I analyzed his research and realized where the first mistake was made, so I started pulling records. What did I end up finding? His grandmother was born in Ireland, not Scotland! When I called to tell him the news, I thought he would be upset as he was not related to a king. Instead he was thrilled with the news and asked if he was eligible for Irish Citizenship. Since his grandmother was born in Ireland he was, however since he had no proper documentation except for what I had found we had to start from scratch. Four months later, with proper documentation, and source citations, I finally sent in his application for citizenship.
The moral of this story is, if you click on leaves and connect yourself to someone else’s research, and if the outcome seems too good to be true, it usually is.