Updated: Oct 18
Anyone doing genealogy research has most likely come across a family tree that did not have correct information about an ancestor. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect, even though it would be nice to never make mistakes. The way we handle mistakes in other people's family trees says a lot about ourselves. These people we are reaching out to are most likely related to us in some way. Therefore how we handle the situation can have an effect on the relationship with this person.
Here are a few steps you can take when you feel that you found a mistake in someone's family tree.
Try to examine why the person may have placed the information in their family tree. Did they place it there due to a source they found? Look through their sources to see if there is one that supports why they placed that information in their tree.
If you can not figure out why they placed the wrong information in their tree the only other way to find out is to ask them. There are various reasons why some people will place information in their trees. For example, some family members will pass down old family history that had been done by a family member. Many times this information was gathered from other family or from pre-computer research techniques.
Once you are ready to reach out to them realize that there are two ways you can handle your initial message to them. The first way 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 best way to handle the first 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 receive their reply, read what their reasoning was behind placing the information in their tree. This will help you to understand why the information is there.
Despite the fact that you know the information in their tree is wrong, do not simply start out the return message with "You have wrong information in your tree." Instead, try replying back with a suggestion of what information you have that is more accurate. Attach source information so that they know where you got your information from.
They will decide if they want to change the information based off 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 and change their information then you need to just let it go. It is their family tree.
Getting upset about wrong information in other people's family trees can be upsetting. Honestly, though it isn't 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. There is enough stress in the world without adding to it.