Genealogy mistakes can and will be made…


…and I’ve made my share of genealogy mistakes.


As a beginner genealogist, over 20 years ago, I started researching our family history and my initial research was my husband’s ‘Blythe’ tree.

Since our last name is Blythe, it seemed like the best place to start.

The definition of the word ‘beginner’ accurately describes the state I and my research were in. I had no knowledge of the conventions of genealogy research such as sources, citations, and the varying degrees of reliability of information. I was in it for fun – at first.

Since starting my research I have amassed a database of over 120,000 individuals. I am a truly serious genealogy addict and I fully admit to and own my genealogy mistakes and triumphs, but sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the two without further research.

As my research progressed beyond the ‘fun’ stage, I started to take note of proper methods and proof of conclusions. I began to note gaps, hints and speculations directly in the notes for the affected individuals as I have come to realize that not doing so makes it very easy to see the connection as definite at a later time, when visiting with the information again later and when the circumstances of the research are forgotten. It’s easy to forget what information is truly reliable and what isn’t.

When attempting to find the parents of an individual, the information I have to go on can be purely circumstantial if there is a scarcity of documentation. Frequently, I will resort to using online family trees for information that I use strictly as ‘hints’ to further my research and hopefully find a connecting document, especially if I had no idea who the parent, child, etc. may have been in the first place. Someone else may have already discovered the connection and published it. Then I investigate the new information to find sources to support the conclusion, and hopefully avoid genealogy mistakes. If the connection was purely speculative, I knew this by the lack of sources.

Christian W. and Mary Ann Keefer, genealogy mistakesIn some cases, as an example, there may be sources for the child, and also sources for the parent, but they are not both ever mentioned in the same sources to prove the connection. The connection had been made based purely on circumstantial circumstances and information such as residence, location, ages, naming conventions, and similarities in personal information such as age, etc. In the later years of my research, I have developed the habit of marking the connection as speculative in the notes, being sure to describe where the connection is unsupported. This practice has resulted in much more accurate conclusions and therefore future research on the same individuals is much more likely to be based on supported, factual information

Earlier, however, I got a shock when I received an email from a fellow researcher of an ancestor of the ‘Blythe’ family named Mary E. Keefer. Mary had been the wife of the original immigrant, Charles George Blythe, who was my children’s 3X great grandfather. After immigrating from Lincolnshire, England in 1857, Charles settled in Wisconsin where he married Mary in 1865.

It seems I had connected Mary to the wrong parents in Pennsylvania. Mary E. Keefer was actually Mary Elizabeth Keefer, the daughter of Christian (Chester) Keefer and Mary Ann Jaques. The interesting thing I found after looking into this further was that Charles George Blythe’s own daughter Jennie Blythe married John St. Jaques and had a daughter, Esther Jaques. John proved to be a relation to Mary Ann Jaques. Also of interest is the discovery that Christian went by Chester. Christian’s great grandson and my children’s great grandfather was named Chester.

Looking back on this one of many genealogy mistakes now, I see how it might have occurred.

Charles and Mary Blythe in 1880 Census, genealogy mistakesAll of the sources for Mary E. Keefer and Mary E. Blythe (after marriage) show her birth place as Wisconsin. Yet, somehow I had connected her with Pennsylvania. The only reason I can see for this occurring is misreading the census form. Fifteen years ago, the scans were of much poorer quality and frequently much more difficult to read – especially the column headings. Mary’s birthplace appears in the column next to her father’s, which happened to be Pennsylvania.

Once this erroneous connection was made, everything appeared to match – sexes and ages of siblings, as well as her own age and information.

Marriage record of Chester Keefer and Mary Ann Jaques, genealogy mistakes

Since learning of and correcting the error, I have been madly researching this family and have added new sources and information. Once the correct connection was made, I was able to locate several sources, including several censuses as well as their marriage record.

I have also found online genealogies showing Christian’s parents to be Jacob Keefer and Barbara Burkholder.

But, here we go again, the same old story! …more supposedly helpful information that can easily lead to genealogy mistakes.

Although online family trees state these are Christian’s parents and I can find several sources for the couple that indicate a son of Christian’s age, I have been unable to locate a source showing Christian as their son by name, so I have no way of knowing how this connection was made. I have entered this information as a base for further research, but I have also noted in the data that this connection is speculative until proof is found.

Unsourced information has led to both genealogy mistakes and amazing breakthroughs. I will continue to use and publish this information for the benefit of everyone using my sites, but it will always be clearly marked as to the quantity and quality of sources attached.