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Mistakes To Avoid When Researching Your Ancestry


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Discovering your family tree can be a fulfilling experience. Researching your ancestry can show you where you come from – you might have ancestors from different sides of the world! It can also add to your sense of identity.

As interesting as it is, it can be easy to get carried away, especially if you’re hoping to find a famous long lost relative along the way. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when investigating your ancestors.

Famous Relatives

One of the most common assumptions whilst researching – especially if your surname indicates it – is that you are related to a famous person. Whilst this may be the case, you must have evidence to prove it. If you do in fact have famous ancestors, great! But don’t get carried away trying to make links that aren’t actually there.

Maiden Names

It is very easy to overlook maiden names, however if you ignore them you will potentially be closing off a side of your family tree. Maiden names are also useful when identifying other ancestors as they are often used as middle names.

Another problem is assuming that a girl with the same name as her father was unmarried. Don’t forget to consider divorce and marrying someone with the same surname.


Marriage is a complicated matter when it comes to genealogy. Marriage documents are not always easy to find and are usually destroyed. Often when there is no record, the children are illegitimate. You can look to newspapers or church records for proof of marriage too.

Another common mistake is assuming that a man’s wife is the mother of his children. Parentage should not be assumed and you should never rule out previous wives, later wives or mistresses.

Furthermore, people who were recorded as widowed might actually have just been divorced. This is because it was a sensitive issue in the past and some census forms didn’t have other options.

Same Surname Means Related

It is tempting to think that two people in the same area, with the same surname are related by default, but coincidences do happen. Try and look for other evidence in the records to back this up.

DNA Tests

When you take a DNA test for genealogy purposes it is important to be aware of what exactly you are getting from the results.

A paternal line test and a maternal line test both help you to identity your Haplogroup- groups that are associated with ancient migration routes out of Africa. This can suggest which geographical region your ancestors came from.

However, a paternal line test can only be taken by a male and traces only the male line. A maternal line test can be taken by males or females but only traces the maternal line. It is also important to bear in mind that your results will depend on how unique your DNA is.

There are also constraints to be aware of. There is a margin of error to consider and things like secret adoptions, mutations in the genes and no corroboration with written records means you can’t take the results as 100% accurate every time.


Names can and are spelt in numerous different ways, so don’t assume that there is only one version in your family tree. This isn’t only limited to surnames. For example if you are researching a ‘Catherine’, make sure you also look for ‘Katherine’ and ‘Catharine’ etc.

Lastly, don’t forget that there can be errors in the records. Just as letters can be misplaced, dates can get mixed up too. ‘1876’ could be mistakenly written as ‘1867’, so examine recorded data carefully.

They key to avoiding mistakes is to make sure you don’t take assumptions as facts. Have evidence for each link you make and you should be adding to your family tree in no time.

Do you have any tips for discovering your family tree?? Leave your thoughts below.

Tooba Kazmi loves to hear stories about her great-great-great grandparents. She recommends DNA Worldwide to start your ancestry search.



About Dangerous Lee

Writer of essays, short stories and Ask A Black Girl. Author of Keep Your Panties Up and Your Skirt Down & The Half Series - When Black People Look White. Webmaster of DangerousLee.biz.


One thought on “Mistakes To Avoid When Researching Your Ancestry

  1. You gave some very good advice. I am sure many people will find it very helpful.

    Posted by chmjr2 | October 28, 2013, 11:33 am

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