It’s fine to make assumptions during your genealogical research. In fact, we all do it whether we think we do or not.
However, as we review our sources and uncover evidence, we have to remember our assumptions. We must be willing to let them go in light of new information.
We need to follow where the evidence leads us, and not what we think or wish it should say. Our assumptions can be stubborn.
This is especially true when it comes to oral history. We sometimes try to make the evidence “fit” the oral history.
Here are some common assumptions we make during our research, some of which I have blogged about before:
- –Parents were married
- –A child’s birth occurred after a marriage
- –Parents were only married to each other
- –The wife in the census household is the mother of all of the children
- –A person living in the same place with the same name is OUR ancestor
- –People stayed in one county or state their entire lives
- –Children took the surname of their father
- –People married or died in the county or state where they lived most of their lives
- –People appear in the records as one “race”
- –Enslaved people took the surname of their last slaveholder
- –Children survived to adulthood
- –Enslaved people had no surnames before emancipation
And the “mother of all assumptions”—assuming that what we read in an original source is accurate without correlating that information with other records.
People can and did misremember, lie, deny, make things up and simply err.
So as you are planning and reviewing your research, be sure to do a mental check of your assumptions. They can lead you astray, and create what I call an artificial brick wall.
Readers, tell me in the comments what erroneous assumptions have you had in the past with your research?
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
One thing I am guilty of is ASSuming that my great grandfather is related to others on several census’ because his potential brothers lived next door and they all (3) kept changing their parents’ birth locations. Unfortunately I haven’t found a birth record with my GG grandfather, but I have connected with a new found cousin who told me he was a part of the family.
Assuming parents names listed on death certificates are accurate. The informant may not have had their information correct and simply guessed…or maybe they were right and makes you question everything else! I eventually deleted an entire branch of my tree after the docs didn’t match up for my paternal great grandfather.
What a great post! While I very well know that it is “trouble,” I still find myself mistaking *same name* for *same person.* I had to correct one of these boo-boos just a few days ago 😉
What a great post!
Now, if we could also get our family members to LET GO of their assumptions, once we disprove them!!!!!
It was great seeing you, also! I still need to get the book. 🙂
Excellent post! Definitely been guilty of a lot these assumptions. T
First of all, a BIG congratulations on the new book!
One of the assumptions I’ve made is a common one: my great-grandmother was my great-grandfather’s first wife.