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Common Genealogical Mistakes

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Don't fabricate facts!

Place or date unknown LEAVE IT BLANK or enter as such -

Place assumed by other given facts - enter as eg: <, , Ohio>

  • Parents place of KNOWN marriage place
  • other siblings KNOWN birthplace
  • Place of residence pre Census Records

Date should be left blank or listed as:

  • est - estimated
  • bef - before
  • aft - after
  • betw - between
  • or if assumed <1899>

Placing facts not known and documented into field names, dates, places generates factual data and many family genealogist take then as GOSPEL FACT when found in GEDCOMs, World Family Trees and refuse to accept new information or documentation.

Many family genealogists over the decades have taken out the assumed markers "<>" for place <, , Ohio> that was generate by many computer programs such as PAF when a GEDCOM was created leaving just the location place as a given fact. and as well as taking the bef., est, aft, betw out the the date fields.


Use Standard accepted abbreviations.

IF IN DOUBT, DO NOT abbreviate - or if you feel that the abbreviation may be taken out of context or misconstrued.


In using/coping sourcing - do not change abbreviations or spellings to suite yourself. Copy it VERBATIM and changing no spellings and it you feel you just must change the information any changes you make should be placed within [...] it indicate the changes made to the original entry.

Christening/baptismal dates

These are being constantly used as birth dates - this provides a false presentation of data for the birth date.

A christening date can occur as:

  • an infant at birth
  • an infant shortly after birth when death has occurred
  • as an infant several days, weeks or months or up to a year after birth has occurred
  • as a child
  • as a young adult

Some christening/baptismal records, if you can obtain a true abstraction of photo copy of the parish record, will give both a birth date and a christening date - ie:

Margaret Hardesty Daughter of Thomas Hardesty and Ann his wife was Born Oct. 20 1800 and Baptizd Nov 10 1801 by The Revd Nicholas H. Lane - - - All Hallow's Parish Anne Arundel County, Maryland Resgister 1685-1858 Vestry Proceedings 1761-1844, pg. 166.

DEATH PLACE - SSDI is placing "Last Known Residence" or "where last benefit was sent/received" at - as the place of death -- THIS IS NOT ALWAYS the PLACE Of DEATH and should be double checked and VERIFIED as to whether the DEATH PLACE entry was generated from the SSDI source.

This quirk in is leading to a great deal of misinformation and incorrect data being put into databases!!!!

Is being stated as the place of death. Yes, this can occur, but in today's society this is not always so. Today, we are a mobile society and we travel around.

Last Residence: where the last Social Security check was deposited/mailed to:

  • The person's place of residence
  • The person's postal box
  • The person's payee representative address which is not always the same as the benefit person
  • The person's direct deposit to a banking institution or debit/credit card
  • A nursing home facility
  • A hospice facility

There is always the possibility that the person died in a hospital either in a nearby community, several miles away or several hundred or thousand miles away or even while on a trip abroad or across our continental borders in Mexico or Canada.

When coming from this record if should either be entered as:

  • prob - 69130 Cozad, Dawson, Nebraska, United States of America
  • 69130 Cozad, Dawson, Nebraska, United States of America - prob is the biggest culprit of entering it as the place of death with is totally wrong to do - unless it is a proven fact and supported by a death certificate.

Burial date

Again these are being constantly used as death dates - this provides a false presentation of data for the death date - just maybe if lucky and one can get a true abstraction of the record it might just also state a death date or hint at a death date.

The christening/baptismal date and place are constantly being used as the birth date on GENI as is the burial date being given for the death date these dates should be put into the proper spots since the do exist - when they do not exist in a genealogy program they should be annotated either in the notes or in the birth/death line or place line, which ever will allow correct annotation.

A christening/baptismal date placed within the birth date field should read;

  • bp/bap. Nov 10 1801
  • Nov 10 1801 - bp/bap. a burial date if appearing in the death field should read:
  • bur. Nov 10 1801
  • Nov 10 1801, bur.

Will, date is written

- are being given as a death date.

Will can be written:

  • on the day one dies - in early days
  • several days before one death
  • weeks, months even years before one dies

Will, probated or proved

This could have been done:

  • on the day of death, but unlikely
  • several days after or longer

If lucky enough, the one attesting to to the authenticity of the will may state the death date of the testator - ie.

George H. Marquart Will Book 6 pg. 531-2
The Last Will and Testament of George H. Marquart of the Precinct of Mt. Carmel in the county of Wabash and State of Illinois made and published the eighteenth day of September in the year of our Lord One Thousand and nine hundred forty-one....
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal, the 18th day of September in the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine hundred Forty-one. - George H. Marquart (seal)
State of Indiana Greene County ss} On this 29th day of Aug. 1947 in open court in Greene Curcit [Circuit] Court state of Indiana, Bert Miller a resident of Greene Co., Indiana,.... to the annexed instrument purporting to be the last will and testament of George H. Marquart deceased, late of Greene Co. Indiana, and who departed this life under date of Aug. 18, 1947. ....

When using the will dated - will proven as a death date it should be either fully documented in notes - or well annotated in the date date line or place line (which ever allows it to be done correctly) as:

  • between 18 Sep 1941 - 29 Aug 1947
  • will dtd 18 Sep 1941 - proved 29 aug. 1947

Thus this proves the correct and accurate time frame of death - I have seen many instances where only one of the above dates has been used as the death date - this provides a false presentation of data for the death date.

These were GENEALOGICAL STANDARDS when there were no place spots for christening/baptism and burial dates and they should still be adhered to today when doing genealogy either on paper or on computer. Above all since they now most generally have their own spot in computer programs and on paper forms they should be placed in there and not in the birth/death fields as has been occurring.

Global Replace

- computer genealogy programs

Have you ever wondered where those funny looking place names come from???

It's called "Global Search and Replace".

One should not use it to clean up files - especially with state abbreviations such as IN, In. etc. to make then a whole un-abbreviated name as Indiana - even is "case sensitive" is used as people do use full capitalization for place names. This would even apply to the correcting the abbreviation of 'co' for county and "twp' for township.

Doing a global to replace IN or In for full spelling of Indiana will replace the "in" or "IN" in any place name.

Thus Washington twp, Greene, Indiana becomes - Washindianagton twp, Greene, Indianadiana.

If one does so they then should check every place entry in their data file to make sure that place spelling are all still in proper spelling.

I find it usefully to take out "county" in the place name, to take down the spelling of township to "twp' if space is needed and also USA and United States. I also find it useful in correcting spelling errors found as they may be compounded throughout the file.


Some early genealogy enthusiast decided to shorten the entry of entering dates down to

  • 12-12-09
  • 12-12-1909
  • 12/12/09
  • 12/12/1909

When no format statement was given the 1st two sets of numbers can be interpreted as either

  • month-day year
  • day-month-year

Also with the passing of the 1800's and 1900's, if the material bears no dates, assumptions have been made if the years was only added as a two digit number.

This has also lead to transcriptions errors occurring over the many years.

Many people even insisted on sending genealogy material in this manner, which had to be guessed at or either sent back and clarification on dates made.

Its easy to fall back into number only format when handwriting data, but one must always remember to write the month out in full or use the first three letters in the month as an abbreviation. I know I was guilty of doing this in my early years of genealogy.


BIGGEST ERROR is blindly accepting a GEDCOM without opening it up and seeing what is within.

This SHOULD ALWAYS be done no matter what. This is the root of all EVIL in the genealogy community.

All profiles that are 'marked as living' or 'unknown' should be deleted out of the newly open file any profiles with a '?" in them should be deleted also or evaluated for significant data content and are worth keeping - these generate a nightmare in the merging process.

All profiles with only a surname attached should be deleted - only profiles with data within should be kept if no full name is attached = the blank data field can be replaced with "[-?-]' to indicate that it has been evaluated and deemed valuable to retain.

Profiles with either a first name or last name if attached to another profiles with full or partial data should be retained filling the missing name area in with "[-?-]".

Go back and make sure you have caught all the 'living', 'unknown' blank no name profiles and delete them.

Next go to Marriage lists and review it, making sure you delete every marriage record that is not attached to anyone - or just attached to a child - the latter is a common GEDCOM fluke. In GEDCOMs, the attached spouse are exported, but not the spouse's parents if they were in the database.

Now you are ready to merge - be thoughtful, and take out all the "Garbage' such as

  • Wft Est. 1823-1912
  • living
  • deceased within the fields
  • possibly even the GEDCOM generated data which will appear within <> it sounds or appears to be relatively inaccurate - this is based on "known' data also could of been generated most generated data is based on
  • marriage date/place
  • birth date/ place
  • death date place

NOW with this done = you are ready to generate a new very clean GEDCOM - to import into your personal files.

A lot of work - YES - worthwhile doing - YES - it makes matching profiles easier - plus you end up with a lot less UNWANTED junk profiles - and if you share - you don't share extra hidden junk files.

The effort of opening up a newly acquired GEDCOM and cleaning it up will very well be worth the time involved in doing it. Plus, it is a real "eye opener' as to how someone really cares about the data they share - and pass on. If it's an extra "dirty file", it shows their lack of ability in my mind to preserve the integrity of genealogical data.

This in my mind is a mandatory thing that should be done if you are planning to upload it up online to programs such as GENI,, etc. as you are only perpetuating someone else's errors and compounding and passing on the misinformation. Since it is your GEDCOM now, it reflects back on you first, then others.

DO NOT RELY on the person sending the GEDCOM to have spent time cleaning it up before sending it to you! open it up into a different database - this even applies to GEDCOM's from GENI also (every unmade merge comes down within) - this will prevent a lot of extra work, heartache


Find-a-Grave Places of Birth & Death - PLEASE BE CAREFUL WHEN Importing in are transcribing into GENI and any other genealogical program

They are maintaining a "current geography database" This means that all birth , death and burial locations have been changed to their standards - modern day locations -

This means that the actual/factual locations given on a death certificate that have been entered into Find-a-grave have been changed to suit their standards - and if trying to re-enter those from a birth/ death/burial certificate as written they will not be accepted

Anything that is smart-matched into GENI will have to be double and triple checked and verified - or just simple "tick-off" the locations area for birth / death / and burial locations before impporting a Find-a-grave entry.