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Mistaken Identity

A particularly difficult problem can arise during your research when two or more identically-named people of roughly the same age have lived jointly in one locale. You can also find people with the same name in the same family, such as mothers and daughters. Often, they are not related to each other, making it crucial that the genealogist not confuse them.

As with other genealogical problems, you will have to use multiple sources and records to determine which identically-named individual is the one you are seeking and whether the other individuals bear any relationship to you. One suggestion is to extensively explore land and probate records to determine places of residence and other distinguishing information. In any event, be aware that some of the records you come across may contain inaccuracies, so obtain as much information as you can.

Mistaken Identity: Part 2

One mistake genealogical researchers often make is to assume relationships between people with similar or identical surnames. Although this is very tempting, making such a mistake could seriously divert your exploration. Instead, where it seems appropriate, use identical or similar surnames to guide some of your research, but do not conclusively add anyone to your family tree without verifying their relationship from reliable records.

Conflicting Records

You probably know that you can find information such as birth dates, marriage dates, maiden names, and so on in more than one place. This is great, because that gives you several options when you're doing your research. However, what do you do when you find conflicting information? For example, what if you find one birth date for an individual on a marriage certificate and a different birth date for that individual on a death certificate?

Of course the best thing to do is to check a few more records. Hopefully more records will help you determine which is the actual date. Another answer is to put more faith in the record that was created closer to the event or was created by the individual himself. For example, a birth date on a birth record is more likely to be accurate because it was created at the time of the event. A birth date on a marriage certificate has fairly good chances of being accurate because the individual probably wrote down his own birth date. A birth date on a death certificate has smaller chances of being accurate: first, it was created several years after the actual birth, and second, someone other than the individual had to have provided the birth date on the death certificate.

Inaccurate Previous Research

Needless to say, obtaining a pedigree from a book or other source could greatly speed your genealogical exploration. Indeed, an accurate pedigree can be a valuable tool for filling in holes in your research.

Unfortunately, a few of the pedigrees you come across may be false. In some cases, the researcher compiling the pedigree may have distorted information in order to prove descent from a certain famous or noble person or to cover up a relationship to someone undesirable. In other cases, the researcher might have inferred, rather than proved, one or more of the familial relationships. As a result, the pedigree may diverge at some point to include people who are unrelated to you.

Since fraudulent pedigrees pose a strong risk for side-tracking your research, it is very important that you take all steps possible to verify the accuracy of any pedigree you acquire. In particular, be sure that all the information in the pedigree conforms to what you have discovered in your prior research. If there are discrepancies, do what you can to ascertain the truth. Finally, it might be a good idea to learn what you can about the reputation of the individual who compiled the pedigree.

Tall Tales

Family tradition is another potential source of erroneous genealogical information. Frequently, such tradition holds that the family is descended from some particularly noteworthy or interesting ancestor, such as a high noble in England or a French Huguenot who fled persecution. In many of these cases, the relationship is fictitious, arising as the family history was passed down and embellished through the generations. In more extreme cases, the family may not have any roots in the supposed ancestors home country. Similar inaccuracies may also surround the history of the family surname and the deeds of various ancestors.

Once again, using a variety of sources to piece together the family tree is crucial for ensuring accuracy. Although family traditions may serve as useful clues for directing your search, they should not be taken at face value.

Impossibly Close Dates

As you do your genealogical research, you may come across dates that don't seem to make sense. For example, children that were born too close together or a marriage date that comes after someone's death date. Your first conclusion may be that the dates are incorrect. This may be the case, and the best way to determine this is to look to other records for verification.

If the dates were recorded before 1752, another answer is that the dates were recorded using the Julian calendar. With the Julian calendar, the first day of the year was March 25th and the last day of the year was March 24th. This means that dates such as July 10, 1507 and October 15, 1507 came before dates such as January 1, 1507 and February 28, 1507.

For more information about the Gregorian and Julian calendars and the switch between the two, see the topic Dangerous dates.

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