With the growing popularity of family history research, websites offering online resources to DIY researchers are expanding. What was once a grueling and expensive path to discovering family roots has now become easy and affordable. Just hook up to one of these websites and information fills the screen. Marketing shows amateur genealogy sleuths beaming at their recent discoveries. Add in DNA matching and kissing cousins are happily united.

No doubt, delving back in time to discover your family’s history is thrilling. Thousands of people enjoy researching their families’ ancestry, especially when the research can be done from the comfort of your computer desk chair. This is a wonderful hobby, but serious researchers, or those to whom accuracy is more important than convenience, may soon become frustrated when trying to resolve conflicting data or push into the distant past. At some point, information collected online may seem unreliable, impossible to verify, or lead to a dead-end. Subscription data services can also be expensive. Worse, trusting family trees produced by other amateur researchers is perilous.

Recent research into personal family history turned up a prime example of the landmines lurking on contemporary family history websites. Working six generations back is challenging. Detailed U.S. census reports, an anchor for family history researchers, are not available in the first 200 years of immigration to America. Unless your ancestors were persons of great stature, public records of their lives are scarce. The temptation to piggyback off someone else’s family tree information is tempting when the trail gets thin. This I discovered in researching George Allen, Sr., born in 1720 in Virginia. That is how much I assuredly know. Examining other converging family trees, I was amazed to discover that my George Allen, Sr. died in 1807 in Oglethorpe County, GA and also died in 1803 (or 1805?) in Warren, NC. — same birth date and place, same spouse, same children. Hmmm… Obvious to me, several researchers just borrowed “facts” from other amateur researchers without establishing any validity. These inaccuracies are being perpetuated by subsequent researchers, making family trees a blooming web of misinformation.

So when is it time to call in a professional genealogist for your family history project? How about when you move past the realm of information you can verify? How about when it is important to you to have a professional portfolio that contains a professional, accurate report with reliable sources duly noted? In our own family tree, even death certificates and tombstones in the last century contain factually inaccurate and inconsistent data. Piecing together the tidbits and connecting shreds of information demand the skill of an experienced researcher, one who understands the nuances of vetting information from a variety of sources and knows where to turn when the trail runs thin.

It’s your personal story, but get it right!