Aspiring to more perfect records

4 years ago

All genealogists want to share research with future descendants. Will your descendants celebrate you or will you be cursed as the genealogical equivalent of Cinderella’s stepmother? In other words, just how helpful are you being to future researchers? Here are some questions to ask yourself.


Do you have family pictures? Are they clearly identified by name, possible date, place, and relationship to you? Who was that lovely lady in the long gown and hat? If you know it was great-grandmother Mary, note it. Otherwise, frustrated descendants may just toss all the unidentified photos and Mary’s image will be lost forever.

Are you leaving documents clearly identified? For example, many birth certificates don’t show the name of the child since the parents haven’t decided yet. If you know whose record that was have you penciled in the name on the record?

Have you indicated where you found your material? In the future this will be especially important as we become more and more digital. If you found a family tree in a book be sure you record title, author, edition, etc. This will allow future researchers to check the accuracy of the book and author. Do your descendants a favor and let them know exactly where the information was found.

Have you eliminated all questionable people from your tree or at least indicated any unproven links? Many people’s trees are cluttered with common sense errors and you should correct or eliminate them – seven year old girls don’t have babies; children aren’t born 3 months apart, and no one has lived to be 200 years old, so if you have these kind of mistakes best research again to determine if there is a clerical error or the person isn’t your ancestor at all.

Are you backing up your software using current technology and are you noting passwords, etc., so someone can access them? Remember, technology changes quickly so stay up to date.

If you’re using paper records are they well organized and all entries clearly legible. A series of bumps won’t be much help to your future family historians in figuring out where an ancestor lived.

Finally, don’t leave your descendants a glorified family tree that isn’t your own. Much as you want to prove you descended from a famous figure don’t include him/her unless you can verify that the line is true. Obvious mistakes, such as claiming you’re a direct descendant of Alexander the Great who left no children, shouldn’t be occupying space in your software or on your pedigree charts.

If you can’t answer yes to all the questions you’re probably like most of us whose genealogy is fluid and new material is being added. If you answered yes to all the questions, bravo, you’re a perfect genealogist and a little scary to the rest of us mere mortals. We all, including me, have work to do on our records.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at