Family Tree Shortcuts

Not All Records (Military, Census, etc.) Are Always Correct

When conducting research for your family tree, it’s important to remember that not all information is reliable. For example, a census provides information on the age of people in a household. At the time of the census, however, the person giving information may have said the wrong age through slip of the mind (yes, it happened to people back then too) or intentional deception. Maybe the father claimed a grandchild as his own on the census to protect the reputation of his un-wed daughter. Or maybe the census take assumed that both husband and wife were born in the same year where there was actually a ten year difference. This doesn’t just happen with census records—it happens with things like military records too. Perhaps a soldier lied about his age to be permitted into the armed forces early. Things like this are not uncommon with military records. And of course, as great as other Ancestry users’ family trees are for research, remember that if they don’t have sources attached, they might not be correct.

This isn’t to say that nothing is reliable. Most things are quite reliable. Some resources, like birth records, can be counted on to provide accurate information since it was recorded so closely after the event. But even if you are researching census or military records instead of births and deaths, you can assume that the information is right unless you find conflicting information or unless you have a reasonable reason to expect inaccuracy.

Once last thing—there are transcription errors as well. This means that when a person typed the information into the computer so it could be searched, they may not have been able to read the entry correctly. So don’t forget to look at the original records if they are available—regardless of whether they are censuses, military records, or births and deaths.