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Use more than one ancestor look up site!

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on May 30th, 2010

I really need to remember my own advice to use more than one ancestor look up site!Ancestors in Thorne Family tree
On the occasions when I find myself talking to someone new to this family history pastime, about doing ancestor research, I often find myself going back to the advice that I have been given by a professional genealogists. Now I do not consider myself to be anything like a Genealogical Guru, I am simply someone who has gained a little experience over the years and now am happy to pass on two of my tips here. Both are about stepping back from the research results and introducing some careful thought into the proceedings.
  • Think logically about a person’s time-line.
  • Listen to family stories, but then step back and try to corroborate them with hard evidence to confirm what you have been told.

A person’s date of birth is obviously going to dictate an approximate time for when they could have got married and when you should reasonably expect them to have died. A little thought will tell you that rarely will a person be getting married in their hundredth year! Likewise, they are not going to be getting wed aged 6 or 7 either. Beware of entries in databases that just happen to have the same name as your ancestor, but are just plain and simply the wrong people. But even then we can go wrong if  we are not careful.

One weekend, when doing some family tree research,  I got myself stuck in a hole and wasted oh so much time digging it deeper and deeper! What was it I was doing wrong and how did I finally get out of it? Well I was trying to find the details of an ancestor’s death so that I could purchase a death certificate from the GRO site.

I am fairly wedded to www.ancestry.co.uk for most of my research. I like what they have on offer and I have become use to the way the site works. I also have a subscription to other sites such as www.thegenealogist.co.uk which I find good for many searches and then there is another favourite of mine:  www.findmypast.com.  (Disclosure re these links: Compensated Affiliate.)

The research I was doing had been initiated by reading some “thoughts” put down on paper by a relative before he died. I had been shown this family history because, as a cousin, I had an ancestor in common with them and I wanted to enter this forbear into my family tree as well. The handwritten notes indicated that our ancestor had died aged 66 and from this I was able to work out that as they were born in 1865. From this I then worked out that they probably died in 1930.

I went on to ancestry.co.uk and searched by name for the ancestor in all four quarters of 1930 but to no avail. I then broadened my research for ten years either side and spent hours looking for them without any luck. I then thought I’d try misspellings of the ancestor’s name as this, I thought, is surely why they are missing. Result: A big fat nothing!

Eventually, after much wasted time, I thought about using one of the other websites that offers Birth marriage and death details, something I should have done early on. And what did I find? There he was, on the other BMD site spelt correctly and dying in the district where I expected him too, but aged 70 not 66 and in the year 1935 not 1930!
The lessons for me to relearn and hopefully for you to benefit from are as follows:
  1. Remember that all websites are fallible and omissions happen.
  2. Family stories can sometimes be wrong as humans are not blessed with 100 percent recall and we can get things wrong, as it would seem this relative did in his writings for his children!

I have made myself a note to remember my own advice in future: Use more than one ancestor look up site and remember that stories can be wrong!

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