ALWAYS check the primary sources

When I first got interested in (obsessed with) researching my family history, I loved my visits to St Catherine's House on Aldwych to heave around those enormous tomes with the lists of births, marriages and deaths.  Trips to the PRO on Chancery Lane for sessions on a microfilm reader looking at census returns always left me feeling as though I had stepped back in time.

In the twenty-first century there are some fantastic sets of on-line resources available to the genealogist that really help to make research back to 1837 much more convenient - this afternoon's research will be conducted from the sofa with Ruby (my thirteen year old Staffy-cross) curled up under a blanket next to me.

The suggestions and hints created by the providers of on-line databases or the family trees published by other family historians can also be very tempting.  However, it is all too easy to accept possible leads and ancestries; they come in the guise of 'printed word' and it is human nature to accept much of what we read in print.  There is plenty of very current evidence on how easily pseudo-scientific rubbish seen on social media platforms is accepted by many without question, the lessons need to be applied to our own research too.

So many obviously incorrect family trees have been copied by others and re-published so that the number of inaccurate histories swamp the correct ones, with increasing numbers of people copying and re-publishing the errors because they feel that so many others with the same story cannot be wrong.

Errors in transcriptions of an on-line record from a highly reputable source can be enough to derail a genealogy project; for example, there are lots of transcription and indexing errors in census returns.  An incorrectly transcribed date of birth could lead to the wrong birth certificate and subsequently the wrong parents.  Errors are magnified and become increasingly significant the further away you get from the original mistake.

The need to check everything, to go back to the original sources and images, to build your own story based on the facts that you can evidence with your own eye is more important than ever.



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