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Common Research Mistakes

Not Researching Collateral Lines

One common mistake made by many family historians is concentrating on direct lines and not looking at ancestors’ other relations. Overlooking collateral lines can lead to brick walls and an incomplete family tree. Gathering information on collateral lines, such as siblings, can offer hints on additional areas to research or can assist in verifying information already collected about a direct ancestor. For example, researching a sibling may provide the names of parents in a document, or the location of where the family originally came from, when records for your own direct ancestor hasn’t recorded that information.

Poor Organisation

Poor organisation often leads to repetitive searches, missing documents, ignored hints, poor analysis, wrong conclusions, dead ends, and misleading family connections. Maintaining up-to-date, well-sourced records allows a researcher to better gather information, analyse and assess them, spot inconsistencies, and draw logical conclusions. Good recordkeeping allows a researcher to quickly resume research after and pause and avoids doubling up on research. Putting in the time to be properly organised will save a lot of time in the long term.

Jumping to Unsupported Conclusions

Sometimes researchers are too eager to form conclusions without sufficient facts. Meaningful findings require reliable information from many sources. While preliminary conclusions should still be recorded they should be backed up with further research to build a full picture of an ancestor’s life. The more sources that can be gathered and cited, the more likely it is that a complete account of an ancestor’s life has been compiled.

Not Looking for Alternate Spelling

Some researchers may ignore sources that have ancestors’ names spelt incorrectly resulting in incomplete research and brick walls. The likelihood is extremely high that there will be spelling variations across different documents. Clerks often recorded names as they heard them which could be further complicated by foreign names or those spoken with a heavy accent. Additionally, transcribers who had difficulty deciphering a written name can be a frequent common problem found in databases. Researchers should look for as many different spelling variations as possible and also expand their searches by using initials, abbreviations, middle names and nicknames.

Having an Unclear Research Goal

It’s extremely easy to begin researching one idea, become interested in a different line of thinking, and shift direction and in a matter of minutes, a researcher finds themselves surrounded by papers, records, names, dates, and locations. Meaningful family history research takes preparation and strategy. Research is more effective with clearly defined research goals and research strategies and focusing on completing them. Not unexpectedly, in all research endeavours, there is always some degree of uncertainty. A research plan, however, is not a static document; it changes as the research advances. What matters is that a researcher precisely defines the questions they want to be answered and then identify the documents they need to find to answer those questions.

Jumping Between Families

Although it may be tempting to jump from one family line to another, in order to keep research organised and moving forward, a researcher should not move around until they have thoroughly explored the family they are researching. Keeping research within a specific family line is a better approach to allow time to fully analyse records and clues that might lead to answers.

Giving Up Too Quickly

Many researchers are inclined to give up too quickly when they don’t find a record or an answer in the place they were expecting to, often believing that nothing further is accessible. But rather than giving up and moving on to a different ancestor it’s worth broadening the search – look at a variety of records, try different databases, contact repositories. Don’t give up until all avenues have been explored.