Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Everyone researching their ancestors will come across someone's family tree that does not have the correct information. We all may make mistakes in our trees both intentionally and unintentionally. There are various reasons why incorrect information may be in a tree. Reasons include errors in transcriptions, information passed down by family, or information was purposely placed in a tree.
The way we handle what we feel or know is a mistake in other people's family trees sets the tone for how they will respond. The person is most likely related to us in some way. Therefore the way we handle the situation can have an effect on the potential relationship we will have with this person.
Here are some steps I recommend taking when reaching out to them.
Examine why the information may is in their family tree. Look through the sources connected to their tree to see if there is a source that supports their view of the information. If you can not find a source to support the information, the only other way to determine why the details were placed in the tree is to ask the person who placed the information into the tree.
There are two ways you can handle your initial message you send the person handling the tree.
The first potential way of handling it is to tell them that they have the wrong information in their tree. This normally doesn't go over well and can create an instant defense mechanism. The second way and what I feel is the best way to handle the initial message to them is to introduce yourself. Explain you are researching the same person, and ask them how they gained the specific information that you felt is wrong. Keep it short and wait for their reply. Realize that not everyone you message will reply to you immediately, if at all.
When you do receive a reply, read their reason behind why they place those details in their tree. This will hopefully help you to understand why the information is there. Despite the fact that you know the information is wrong, do not simply start out the return message with "You have wrong information in your tree." Instead, try replying back with a brief explanation of what information you have that is more accurate. I also recommend attaching source information to assist them to understand why your information is more accurate.
They will decide if they want to change the information based on what you sent them. You may have just found a new person, potentially a cousin, to work with on researching that ancestor. If they don't reply back or choose to change the information in their tree then you need to just let it go. It is their family tree.
Getting upset about incorrect information in other people's family trees can be upsetting. Honestly, though it is not worth getting into an email war over it. Just feel good with the knowledge that you tried to help them with the correct information that you had.
Have you had an experience with contacting someone about incorrect information in their tree? Share your experience below. What has and/or has not worked for you? What is your worse or best experience when you reached out to someone about wrong information?