23 January 2024

3 Key Signs a Family Tree is Wrong

When you find your relatives in a stranger's family tree, it means one of two things:

  1. You've discovered a new branch of your own family tree, or
  2. They made a mistake and put your relatives where they don't belong.

When that stranger is also your DNA match, you hope they're right. It's up to you to see if their family tree is reliable or riddled with errors.

Here are the 3 key signs that separate fact from fiction.

Don't pull that family tree into your own. You don't know where it's been!
Don't pull that family tree into your own. You don't know where it's been!

1. Their family is from the wrong place

Giuseppe Nicola Mascia was born on 9 Oct 1794 in Colle Sannita, Italy. I know this because his baptism record is included in his 1826 marriage papers from Colle Sannita. I have vital records that tell me his and both his wives' names, birth dates, and parents' names. I have birth records for his 8 children, born between 1815 and 1835.

One of my DNA matches has Giuseppe Nicola Mascia, born on 9 Oct 1794, in their family tree. But things quickly go wrong.

  • They say Giuseppe was born on that date in Deliceto, a town 80 miles away from Colle Sannita.
  • They have the wrong parents and siblings for Giuseppe. I have documents for the correct people.
  • They have Giuseppe's first wife and kids but the wrong second wife and kids. Theirs overlap with the dates of the real second wife and kids.

What can we make of all this? Since the people in their tree are from a town 80 miles away, they're a different family. I'll bet they saw a hint for "Giuseppe Nicola Mascia" from my tree and pulled him and his first wife and kids right in. They were wrong to do so. They didn't check the facts.

You must know your locations and time period! In the early 1800s, people from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita stayed put.

For a better understanding of the importance of place, see Location and Mobility in "4 Keys to Italian Genealogy."

2. Their dates don't add up

In the same person's family tree, they added another couple from my tree even though the dates don't work. My couple, Nicola Giuseppe Mascia and Angelica delVecchio, married in 1818 and had 7 kids in the town of Baselice.

This person brought Nicola and Angelica into their tree along with 4 of their 7 kids. They documented the fact that this couple married on 30 May 1818 in Baselice. Then they added FIVE other children who were born in Deliceto (50 miles away) between 1804 and 1814. In 1804, Nicola was 15 and living in Colle Sannita, and Angelica was 12 and living in Baselice.

The dates do not work. They contradict logic and the documented facts. I found the 1812 birth record for one of the misplaced kids in Deliceto. His parents were Mattia Mascio and Maria Farollo of Deliceto. Someone didn't do their own research.

Does your family tree have dates that can't be right? You can fix them. Find out how in "How to Find Errors in Your Family Tree."

3. Birth locations are vague

I find so many family trees where it's clear they don't know where their people came from. To spot them, look for great grandparents with only a country as their place of birth. They'll also be missing a full birth date.

That's fine—either they haven't done their research yet or they've hit dead-ends. But that country without a town is a red flag when I see they've put people from my towns into their family tree.

If they don't know where their people came from, how can they assume my people are their people? When I spot this type of borrowing from my tree, I check their direct ancestors. If I can't find a strong possibility of a connection to my towns, I disregard the entire tree.

Are you still missing your ancestor's hometown? Here are "4 Key Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Hometown."

Key Points to Remember

Everyone is in a different place on their family tree journey. Since you're reading this blog, I know you wouldn't pull another family tree into yours without proof. But if you're browsing through DNA matches' trees hoping for a breakthrough, keep an eye out for these 3 key signs a family tree is wrong.


  1. I agree! It is so important to look at the accuracy of the other person's tree. I continually find trees with a person also in my tree, but when I look at their profile, they added data for an entirely different person! How do I know? I look at the birth record they are using as a source. I look at the death record they used. I look at the census they used. So often the name does not match at all. I guess they just accepted hints without checking them out. I always check their sources. Good advice, DiAnn!

    1. Yes, accepting hints without putting in the research time is a big mistake. Then other people copy your error and it multiplies!