Errors, Lies & Misinformation

Zoom Meeting Thursday 16 June

By David Cufley

Notes by Susanne Young

David of North West Kent Family History Society shared with us numerous pitfalls associated with official family history records and genealogical internet research and what to look out for. Ideally primary sources (original records) should always be consulted.

Using various case studies, errors, lies and misinformation were demonstrated in the following:

Census records – names incorrectly recorded either due to enumerator error or misinformation provided by families. It is fairly common to come across errors on the main family history sites where information has been transcribed incorrectly from the original returns. Always refer to the original records and cross-check information with other records/sources.

Criminal Records – original records can be accessed at National Archives, an example of an indexing error in Old Bailey online was demonstrated. Newspaper reports can often provide missing detail/information in such cases.

Baronetage Records – an example of the transposition of information where two women were recorded with the wrong spouses.

Visitations (of London and of Hertfordshire) original 17th century records were contemporaneously described as ‘useless’ due to errors but whilst information should be regarded with suspicion, it may also be of value.

Old fashioned handwriting – can easily be misread. Practice and use available resources to help.

 ‘A Comedy of Errors or Marriage Records of England & Wales’ by Michael Whitfield Foster 1998 highlights a flawed system of record keeping lacking in verification processes with errors and omissions at all levels. However, we should not be too discouraged as these records still provide significant advantages for research.

During the early years of Registration of births, deaths and marriages many fraudulent registrations have been uncovered due to registrars who falsified events to increase their income.

Beware of ‘auto-complete’ misinformation on sites such as Ancestry. One example given was Prince of Wales Island (Asia) recorded as Prince of Wales, Ireland. Family trees on family history sites should always be treated with scepticism – it is highly unlikely that someone married at the age of 120 as shown in one example.

Unfortunately, a number of fraudulent family histories are also around to mislead. Gustav Anjou 1863 – 1942 falsified many family trees for financial gain in the US – and these are often still retained by reference libraries.

We should not be too disheartened by the above – as family history researchers (detectives) we just need to question information and check references and original records wherever possible.

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