20 September 2019

How to Benefit from a Cousin's Mistaken Family Tree

It drives us crazy when someone takes parts of our tree and messes things up.

Each time I go to Ancestry.com I see a list of the latest documents someone borrowed from my tree and put into theirs. I don't mind that.

But it's upsetting when you go to their tree and see mistakes. Maybe that document they took doesn't belong in their tree. Or maybe that person doesn't belong in their tree.

Again, I don't really mind because it isn't going to change anything about our lives. I'd rather look for something good that can come from this experience.

What can we learn when someone messes up the family tree?

I'm happy to share my research, but I want it used correctly.
I'm happy to share my research, but I want it used correctly.

What Do They Know That You Don't?

We all start building our family tree with what we know. We enter facts about our immediate family and some of their ancestors. Then we turn to research and lots of documents.

If we look at our borrower's tree, we can learn the names of people they know and we don't. For instance, say you're my distant relative. You learned the names of my great grandfather's children from a census form. But you don't know who those children married. If you came to my tree, you would learn their names.

When I looked at this borrower's tree, I saw a handful of familiar last names. I knew they came from my maternal grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy.

Use Your Superior Skills and Learn More

To see if my borrower knew more than I did, I first went to the document she borrowed from me. It was an 1809 birth record for the wife of my 3rd great uncle. One of this couple's sons, Giovannangelo, was in my tree. But I have him married to a different woman that my borrower does.

And Giovannangelo is critical to her tree. He's her 3rd great grandfather. She has an Anglicized version of his last name. Consulting my handy relationship chart, my borrower is my 6th cousin twice removed. Our shared ancestors were born around 1718 in Baselice. (I sorted this out after I solved the problem with her family tree.)

Since her Giovannangelo born on 3 Jan 1849, has a different wife than my Giovannangelo born on 3 Jan 1849, who's right? Was it the same man who married twice and had 2 sets of children?

I have about 15,000 people from the town of Baselice in my family tree. They came directly from the town's 1809–1860 vital records. I looked in my tree for the woman my borrower shows as Giovannangelo's wife—Serafina. There was only one choice. And guess what? Her husband is Giovanni, not Giovannangelo, but he has the same last name. The same name they Anglicized in America.

My borrower didn't do the exhaustive research I've done on Baselice. (Who else would?) So she assumed that Giovannangelo, born the same year as Serafina, was her direct ancestor. She didn't know about Giovanni.

With a clue from my borrower's tree, I found where she went wrong.
With a clue from my borrower's tree, I found where she went wrong.

For proof, I looked up the birth records of the children my borrower gave to Giovannangelo and Serafina. The first baby told me all I needed to know. The Giovanni who married Serafina and had this baby had a father named Giuseppe. Those facts match my tree. My borrower chose the wrong man and his ancestors and put them in her family tree.

Giovannangelo's ancestors—the whole bunch in my borrower's tree—came from my tree. From my research. She thinks they're her direct ancestors. I guess I'm obligated to set her straight.

Bring the Old Country Folks to the New Country

I can get a lot of new information from her tree about the generations in America. And I can learn who the children of Giovanni and Serafina married. My first interest is in Annamaria who married one of Giovanni and Serafina's sons. Her last name is prevalent in Baselice. Her father is in my tree, but I didn't know who he married. He is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

This Italian family is the 2nd in my tree that adopted a very English name in America. Why? Because it's easier for an American mouth to say. Or maybe just to fit in. That loss of identity makes me sad. I'm glad my family kept their names.

Is someone mistakenly borrowing people from your family tree? See if their tree has any information you can use. Then, if you want to, you can show them their error. While my borrower grabbed the wrong branch of my family, she is absolutely my relative. Her tree gives me a lot of leads I can use.

Is this what they mean by "don't get mad; get even"?


  1. how do I find and or use the Ancestry recent member connect activity ??? you have a screen shot in this post but I could not find it at Ancestry.

    1. When I log in, it's at the top of my Ancestry homepage. Try this link: https://www.ancestry.com/community/fullfeed.aspx

  2. My tree on Geni is completely ruined. One particular person added people I've never heard of or had documentaion for. It's a total mess. So I have other trees and the one I'm working on building now with documentation on Family Tree Maker.

    1. Any site with a free-for-all tree is going to have more nonsense than reality. I decided Geni was pure garbage the moment I heard some guy praising it because he connected himself to someone like William the Conqueror in 3 clicks. Oh! That's a quality tree, fella. Good work!

  3. My grandmother was born a Curtis and her sister 2nd ggranddaughter knew that she filled it in with information that wasn't correct.(she told me I wasn't related to anybody on that tree) She changed my great grandfather Curtis middle name& his parents and brother are gone. Though now he has new ones with parents & siblings that don't belong to him. On the bright side he is now related to people in high places. I let my family know which line isn't correct & I will work on a correct tree after I finish the side I'm working on at this time. A mistake is different but I don't understand people who know it's not true but I'm glad she isn't related to my other grandparents.