You might have received a somewhat-complete family tree from a relative, close or otherwise. Just looking at the ‘branches’ fills you with intrigue: who are all these people and what are their stories? As nice as the tree might look, there’s just one minor issue – the information on it might not be accurate, and it’s up to you to rectify that.
Separating the men from the myth
If your family already has its own tree assembled by one or more family members, don’t hesitate to take the job of verifying it upon yourself. Chances are, the family members in charge of the tree got their info from other family members, diaries and similar sources of questionable accuracy. While it’s always nice to hear more about your ancestors, word of mouth only does so much.
Start with the relatives on the tree closest to you and work your way up (or down, or sideways). Verify the name, birth and death date, occupation, immigration data and residence of every family member you come across, using established records resources like your state’s library, university archives and so forth.
Afterwards, try and verify the stories and tales pertaining to each individual member, be they mundane or far-fetched. For this, you’ll have to dig deep into various newspaper records (and perhaps military ones) in order to separate fact from fiction. If historical records offer no support for the tales you’ve heard about a family member, chances are that the events in question never transpired. Of course, they might have, but a family tree should be no place for speculation and legends – at the very least, make a note next to every dubious snippet of information stating that no official records back this. It might irk some family members, but others will thank you for clarifying the family genealogy through science and hard research. Speaking of thankfulness…
The future generations
If you’re having trouble finding motivation to document your family tree, it’s worth remembering something important: future generations of your family will want to know about their ancestors every bit as much as you do, and having a well-documented tree will save them quite a bit of effort.
What’s more, the records you have access to right now might not be available twenty years from now, or in a century – all it takes is a fire or a database corruption to destroy the last existing newspaper article or birth record. Thinking this way, you could almost start to feel as if you have a responsibility to create a family tree for the ages, either by updating the current one or creating a new one from scratch.
There’s no reason why you would have to do it all on your own, though: feel free to conscript one or more family members whom show an interest in the past. Working on assembling a large and detailed family tree is a great way to bring relatives together – just make sure that they’re as committed to factual information and verified data as you are!