Check the source of information on your ancestors

Ancestors Devon Wedding


It is so easy to go to another person’s online family tree and just copy the details without questioning if they are correct, because they share some of the same ancestors with you.

We all know that we shouldn’t do this and yet many people still do!


I spotted a public family tree on one of the big genealogy sites that had been put together by a ‘cousin’, though I was not aware of them before coming across their tree. My excitement was tempered, however, when I noted that they had attached the wrong person as a spouse of one of the ancestors that I had already included in my own tree.

I had, perhaps, benefited from better family intelligence than they had as to who the married couple had been. This was as a result of the ancestors in question having been included in family stories that I had heard as a child.


Seeing a glaring mistake in a published tree shows us that, as we get further away from what we know as a fact (or have a certain amount of confidence about), then we really have to investigate the sources that have been attached to people in another person’s family tree.

Sometimes, however, even this isn’t enough to ensure that we get the correct details in our tree. If the source that we are relying upon is wrong then we can end up adding incorrect material that, on the face of it, looks to be valuable because it includes a cited source.

Nick Thorne 'The Nosey Genealogist' researching for

This week I found myself checking some information and looking for a marriage from before 1837 when civil registration began in England & Wales. The only source I could find online was in a Pallot’s Marriage Index on Ancestry. The parish register has yet to been scanned and made available on any of the main genealogy sites, plus there wasn’t even a transcript for this parish to be found.

The first revelation that I discovered from looking at the Pallot’s Index was that when the subject married a known ancestor of mine, she had been a widow. Thus what others had claimed was her maiden name turned out to be her first husband’s surname. This then undoes their next claim that she was born in Ireland on a certain date with the surname that had been assumed to be hers at birth. The other researcher had, unfortunately, made 2+2=5.

I then went searching for her first marriage. The most likely one in Pallot’s is, however, called into question by other transcribed records that put the marriage a full ten years earlier. It would seem that 1828 looked very much like 1818 on the Pallot’s card.

So beware of believing what others claim and always check out their sources. If they haven’t even got a source, then be doubly sceptical of the lead and do your own searches to see if you can find the proof of their claim.

My research this week has also revealed that even cited sources can be called into question. I will have to go back to basics and either, on my next visit to Portsmouth pop along to the Record Office to see the microfilm copies of the register, or take a trip to a LDS Family History Centre to call up the image that I need.

Portsmouth Library and History Centre
Portsmouth Library and History Centre




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