24 August 2021

Provide the Proof and Change Their Minds

It's funny when a family tree on Ancestry uses my cropped Italian birth record as a person's profile image. I didn't get that idea from anyone. I did it for myself so I'd know I have a proof document for the person.

I laughed out loud when I saw a tree using a photo I took of the rare book some information came from. If I see that photo, it's a sure sign I need to investigate that family tree.

Unrelated Relatives

If you've been doing this for a while, I'll bet you've found a tree that gets part of your family all wrong. I found one when a Potential Father / Potential Mother hint appeared on Ancestry. A branch of my family comes from a tiny Italian town that wasn't documented before 1861. I even hired a pair of Italian researchers to find anything more for me. My dead ends are in that town due to lack of records.

One DNA cousin thought she found the parents and siblings of my 3rd great grandmother. That's why I had a hint. But the supposed parents and siblings came from a different province than my family. They lived 3 hours away by car on paved roads. Imagine how far that was in a mule cart on dirt paths.

The reason I found this clear mistake was because of an email. A woman who found that same DNA match's tree was lead to believe that my family was her family. She bought into the Potential Father / Potential Mother hint, too. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Genealogy takes practice.

Family tree mistakes can spread like wildfire. Track down the proof, and they'll want to fix their errors.
Family tree mistakes can spread like wildfire. Track down the proof, and they'll want to fix their errors.

Setting the Record Straight

Does it bother you when people borrow your research and put it in their family tree—incorrectly? Are you unhappy they've copied your photos—especially if you recently made your photos private?

Long ago I told a new genealogist that my grandfather is not part of her family. It took a while, but she removed him from her family tree. Most of the time we aren't this lucky.

Writing a "cease and desist" message usually won't solve the problem. If you want to set things straight, there's only one way to handle it. Document their real family.

So, when a woman wrote to me with a proposed connection that made us 4th cousins, I had to do the work. I wanted to find out from actual documents who her great grandparents really were.

I began with a 1902 ship manifest for the wife, sailing to Boston with her son to meet her husband. Their names and the husband's U.S. address told me this was the right family. The manifest said the woman and child last lived in Pietrabbondante, Isernia, Italy. That's also a 3-hour car ride from my ancestral hometown.

I searched the Pietrabbondante vital records on the Antenati website. I discovered the husband, wife, and child were not born there. I thought at least one of them would be.

Since I was stuck, I looked at Pietrabbondante on Google Maps. I randomly chose the town on its eastern border. It's called Poggio Sannita now, but it used to be Caccavone. I went to the Poggio Sannita records on the Antenati website and straight to the 1897 marriages. That's the year my not-cousin believes they married.

Sure enough, I found their marriage record! Here I discovered that the husband was born one more town to the east, but he and his parents now lived in Caccavone. The wife was born in Caccavone and still lived there with her parents.

This one document was proof that the woman who wrote to me had been seriously led astray. I went on to find the birth records for her great grandparents and their first-born child. Thanks to those records, I could tell her the names of four of her 2nd great grandparents, and some of their fathers.

Finally, I told her how I would proceed to build the family tree further back. Work backwards from the year before her great grandparents were born. Search year-by-year for their parents' marriage records. Then find the 2nd great grandparents' birth records. And maybe their parents' marriage records. She was overjoyed by the news.

Prove the truth to the owner of an incorrect family tree, and they'll want to delete your people from their tree. Plus, you've helped turn their tree into a good clue for someone else.


  1. You are very special helping others with your experience and skills. Thank you.

  2. Poorly researched trees are why Thru-lines on ancestry, is not True Lines. At least with hints, you have the option of ignoring. Thru-lines is how I tracked down a couple of wrong trees. Thanks for the advice.

  3. Aine Ni Donnghaile24 August, 2021 16:43

    I've used the same method many times. I even have a tree called "Random Branches" with those twigs I've built to help others understand their person is not the same as mine of the same name.

  4. I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed your article and have also started doing this.

    1. Thank you. I must admit, I started helping this latest person because I thought she was a distant cousin, but then I realized I could solve her puzzle.

  5. A kind response to a common problem. Plus a wonderful way to turn their trees into better clues for other researchers, as you point out!