Myth 1: Surnames were changed at Ellis Island.
Myth 2: It’s in print. It must be true!
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a compiled genealogy book on a particular family or come upon an ancestor mentioned in a county history. If you read genealogical journals, such as the National Genealogical Society’s NGS Quarterly, you might discover a relative named in another researcher’s case study.
When and where was the work published?
Does the author cite the sources of the information?
Myth 3: All the records you need about your family history are online.
Myth 4: This is most definitely my ancestor, according to these 423 online trees.
Online trees are great tools for keeping track of your discoveries, and it’s easy to expand branches with the automated “hints” you get on sites like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage. And when you see how many other trees include that same data or record—well, accepting that suggested person or record is a no-brainer, right?
Myth 5: We descend from a Cherokee princess.
Stories of Indian ancestry—often, Cherokee—are common in the United States. By 2010, the Census Bureau reports, 819,105 Americans claimed at least one Cherokee ancestor. The stories have a basis in historical reality: The Cherokee and other Indians did intermarry with white settlers. Some Cherokee families (just over 7 percent by the mid-1830s) owned black slaves.
Myth 6: The courthouse burned and the records are gone.
Myth 7: Same surname—must be a relative.
Myth 8: Hey look, it’s our family crest!
Myth 9: Three brothers came to America …
The story goes that three brothers (not four brothers, or two brothers and a sister) arrived in the United States, where one went north, one went south and one went west, giving rise to families with their surname across the country.
Of course, brothers (and sisters) often did immigrate at the same time, but rather than disperse themselves, families and neighbors from the old country tended to stick together in their new homeland. They were much more likely to settle the same area than to spread across the country. A similar story in your family merits careful research to determine if the immigrants in question were in fact related or just shared the same surname.
Myth 10: Source Citations are just for professionals.
- It’ll keep you from scratching your head, trying to remember why your tree says Great-great-grandpa was born in 1852.
- It saves you time in trying to find a source again. Say, for example, you discover a different record that says your great-great-grandfather was born in 1855. You’ll need to re-check your sources for his birth to determine whether to go with 1852 or 1855.
- It helps you evaluate the reliability of information you’ve gathered. A county history written long after the events it describes, for instance, is less likely to be accurate than a newspaper account written at the time of those events.
Best websites for beginners
Seven surname research strategies
Evaluating online genealogy sources
Researching heraldic heritage
Searching Ellis Island with One-Step web pages
Finding famous ancestors
Analyzing Genealogical Evidence independent study course
Source Citations for Regular People on-demand webinar
American Indian Genealogy Cheat Sheet