January 27, 2016

Avoiding Ancestor Identity Mix-Ups

Let’s face it—it can be hard to tell your ancestors apart from others with similar names, ages, and residences. It’s especially hard when all you have to go on is a single record, a short listing in an index or database, or a name in someone else’s online family tree.

In fact, it’s kind of like picking your suitcase out from a long line of similarly sized and colored bags on the baggage claim belt. How can you be sure you’ve got the right one?

That’s a problem every genealogist faces at some point. So it’s good to have a few strategies up your sleeve. After all, who wants to waste time tracking a false lead, or have to go back and prune stray branches off their tree later?

Which is precisely the reason I wrote my latest article, “Mistaken Identities,” for Family Tree Magazine. In it, I offer seven strategies for making sure the records you claim actually belong to your ancestors.

All seven strategies are easy to implement, and can help you keep your genealogy hunt on track. I talk about:
  • the best way to use online family trees
  • how to see what’s behind an index or database listing
  • how tools like charts and timelines can help
  • what a map can show you
  • why you should get to know your ancestor's network
  • the danger of making assumptions
  • how to play devil’s advocate to settle tricky questions

The article is filled with details and examples. You’ll find it in the January/February 2016 issue of Family Tree Magazine. For a little preview, check out my interview with Lisa Louise Cooke in this newly-released podcast. It was a real thrill for me to talk with Lisa, who I’ve admired for a long time.

The current issue of Family Tree Magazine has a lot of other great articles too, all aimed at being “Your 2016 Genealogy Discovery Guide.” Authors include Sunny Jane Morton, Harold Henderson, David Fryxell, Karin Berry, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, Denise Levenick, and Maureen Taylor. If you’re not a subscriber, you might be able to find a copy at your local bookstore (my Barnes & Noble’s carries it), or see the Family Tree Magazine website to order one. You can also get it as a digital download if you prefer.

I hope you find the article helpful and inspiring. I’d love to hear your feedback, as well as any other tips you might have for avoiding mix-ups. Here’s wishing you a successful year of finding your ancestors!


Photo of flight baggage by skeddy in NYC, used under terms of Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license


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