Have You Ever Been Attacked By The Genealogy Police?

Have you ever been attacked by the Genealogy Police? You will if you ever write a historical book or post genealogy information on the Internet.


Of course, we do not really have genealogy police but I ran across this article The Genealogy Police by J. L. Beeken.  It is very funny, but sadly also very true.  Since genealogy research is open to everyone, disagreements frequently arise between experienced or certified genealogists and ‘newbies’.

Genealogy should be fun

We should always remember that genealogy should be fun and it is often only a hobby for the majority of people with differing skill levels.

We are researching dead people and no one will be hurt if mistakes are made. There is no crime committed when errors occur.  After all, we are simply forming personal opinions from scraps of papers, deeds and other records left behind hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago. There are bound to be mistakes and conflicting conclusions drawn after so many years. Even famous historians disagreed. (See Gen. T. S. Woodward disagrees with Historian Albert J. Pickett in Jan. 10, 1858 letter

It always amazes me at how few illegitimate children, criminals and other disreputable characters are generally reported in genealogy family lines, especially during the years without birth control pills. I’m sure, those precious court documents we rely on so extensively in genealogy, were at times forged and all traces of illegitimate children were left out of wills or other incriminating evidence was removed for various and sundry reasons. Our ancestors were only human.  As people do today, they committed crimes, used faulty judgment, and tried to hide their mistakes.  This makes it difficult for us to ever know their true stories.

Don’t be mean-spirited

mean-spiritedI realize that when someone has spent years and considerable money researching their ancestry, then he/she discovers diverse research with obvious mistakes and errors proliferated on the Internet or published in book, it is difficult not to speak out. However, one should never be mean-spirited.

Never resort to demeaning other researchers online. Words like, “She made that marriage up to get into the DAR.” “He has not evidence…shame on him for publishing this work,”are personal attacks toward the researcher and have no place in the genealogy world.  And it’s certainly vicious when a person who has passed away and can no longer defend their work is maligned.

Frankly, I’m surprised more genealogy lines aren’t fraught with numerous errors since previous historians and researchers in the past did not have computers to record their data. Vicious personal attacks only gives experienced genealogy researchers a bad name and discourages others from researching their family line, especially beginners.

By personally attacking others in public or through emails with such language, one quickly becomes known as a ‘bully’ whom few people will seek out or support even if the research is exceptional. If someone else’s research doesn’t agree with yours,  contact the other researcher and graciously share your research, documents and other proof as to the errors. Attempt to create a dialog to further your joint family line.

Don’t shoot the Messenger!

You may not agree or like what the other researcher reports,  but remember, we learn from both good and bad research. By forming a cordial dialog with another researcher, you might discover a previously unknown thread or gem to lead you on a new path in your research. Most of all, we must refrain from posting personally derogatory statements about a researcher who has passed away. messenger shotThis is particularly despicable since they cannot even defend their work.

Instead,  it is always better to provide logical and concise information and/or proof that contradicts the work rather than the researcher.  This is what any professional would do. Finally, don’t become angry if the other researcher still does not agree with you. Simply agree to disagree. Two diverse ancestral lines are often published in genealogy.

Everyone has the right to their own conclusions

Every person has the right to form their own conclusions regarding their ancestry and the research with the best documentation will eventually win out. But don’t discount all research. We cannot move forward if we do not share our knowledge. Everyone laughed at Columbus when he suggested the world was round and he certainly didn’t have evidence to support otherwise. Where would we be today if he hadn’t ventured out into the unknown?

I always believe that “what goes around…comes around.” If you personally and/or publicly attack another, then one day someone may attack you or find errors in your research. DNA evidence has destroyed many well-researched ancestral lines and is creating considerable turmoil in the genealogy world.  Rather than attack, we should applaud those who take the time to compile their research and share it with the world either in a publication or on the Internet. It takes time, effort, expense, as well as courage to format research and place a work before the public and subject oneself to criticism.

We’ve lost so much genealogy research

A good deal of wonderful family genealogy research has already been lost by previous ancestors simply because the family historian never took the time to compile the information in book form for their descendants. When specifically asked to write a book, often their reply was,  “my research isn’t complete.”


I can’t help but think that perhaps, since they were not certified genealogists, these family historians hesitated due to ‘fear’ from the ‘genealogy police’ they met along the way and alas, valuable research was lost with their death. If you have genealogy information, share it with an interested member of your family. It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Another descendant and family historian will appreciate your endeavor and advance your attempts.

Help save our ancestors stories

The TV show Who Do You Think You Are? focuses on the lives of celebrity’s ancestors, not the details such as specific spelling of names, specific birth-dates, etc.,  because the details would bog down the stories. Celebrities (and viewers) are always more interested in their ancestors’ lives, difficulties they encountered and the decisions they made.brainstorming or decision making

My own introduction into the world of genealogy came from listening to the wonderful stories, my grandparents, parents and family historians shared at family gatherings.  I loved to imagine what their lives were like.

Eventually, the stories led to me writing historical fiction novels. Through this genre I am able to utilize genealogical and historical information and create stories of life in colonial America without the limitations of always remaining true to facts. (I  include an Appendix at the end to delineate fact from fiction in each chapter).

My latest historical fiction novel, Discordance tells the story of my Cottingham ancestors of Bibb County, Alabama and is typical of many immigrants who came from Maryland, Virginia and Delaware to Alabama before statehood. Discordance  as well as my Tapestry of Love series provides a glimpse into America’s past beginning with 1638 in England and the colonial days of America. The Cottingham series will continue with my ancestors as they travel through North and South Carolina, Tennessee and finally to Alabama.Thank you!

The stories and sacrifices our ancestors made for us to become the people we are today—that is the true legacy I want to leave my descendants and I believe that is what our ancestors would want us to remember about them. Genealogy is a fun way to encourage our children to learn,  understand and appreciate history.  Let’s keep it fun for all.


As family historian, do you have friends and family ask you how to get started in family research? This is a hard question to answer in a few minutes. Refer them to the book below to help them get started in this fun hobby. Purchase several – Books make great gifts!

WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources

Click here for all historic books by Donna R. Causey

Purchasing any book by Donna R. Causey (fiction or nonfiction) helps keep this website FREE!



  1. Yes, this has happened to me. I have a very distant cousin who is a genealogist in South Carolina. She is all on the message boards and runs a DNA site for my maiden name. She attacked my deceased father for some mistakes he made many years ago trying to research our family name. Back then they didn’t have computers or DNA testing. However, my father was an attorney and did find a lot of information that has helped me in my research because he was able to go into courthouse records. Since this woman jumped all over me, I have seen attack others too on the message boards. She types in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. I guess she doesn’t realize this is screaming over the internet. HA. I think people like her need to get a life!!!

  2. I’m happy to report that in my experience most folks are genuinely happy to share & collaborate – to give as well as gather information; but every now and again, we run into the angry mean-spirited ones who somehow believe they have a corner on the truth-market. They are usually angry about many many things & happy to vomit their rage on anyone or anything crossing their sacred paths. I usually ask them to give us good weather while they’re arranging things with God.
    One time I included an ancestor’s birth-father’s name in parentheses in order to also track the father’s ancestry. Soon there was a scathing denunciation online about “idiots who cannot seem to tell when a child is born out-of-wedlock & insist on fobbing said child off on unwilling albeit legitimate family members” …. I kid-you-not. These folks had been dead & buried for 150 years.
    There’s a researcher on one of my lines whose rule-of-research-thumb is “do your own damn research. I’ve done mine so why should I do yours too?” I get a lot of folks my way who have run into her, but need a little bit of help. I just shake my head & advise them not to take it personally. Happy researching.

  3. Yeah, I have seen this happening. Not to me, but on a mailing list I am a member of. There are some people who consider themselves as “pro’s” and they are very obnoxious and patronizing. I tend to just ignore them. But unfortunately that leads me to ignoring the mailing list, too. And there are lots of nice and helpful people on it.

  4. […] Remember, everyone has a right to their own opinion regarding their personal family genealogy. Angry or insulting attacks, on individuals who have completed research, living or dead will not be posted and bad language is never allowed. (See the article Have You Ever Been Attacked By The Genealogy Police?) […]

  5. Oh how many times I have been threaten and one time even had threat to be sued over family genalogy

  6. As a published author of “haunted” history and crime related history, I am all too familiar with this scenario.

  7. I’ve had people take my photos and claim them. I’ve had people question me rudely. So I finally made my tree private because of it. People can be mean and rude. If I have a mistake I will gladly correct it but if it’s my information I know to be fact then I usually ignore them. For now I will keep my tree private because it’s full of mistakes and I get my feelings hurt too easy. 🙂

  8. Only once have I ever felt like yelling ( I didn’t) After years of searching for the partents of my 4Great Grandfather assisted by a great many others I got a call from a family researcher excitely saying tht she had found the entire line but in a different state from where we had felt certain they had come from. As it turned out I had researched that line and found it to be clearly false. The name and year of birth were the same and the nmes of a couple of kids but the known wife and other children were not. Also I was able to trace where the family were buried in New England and my ancestors are buried not far from my home there could not be a match. A gave her my research and begged her not to publish her information until she checked it . Unfortunately she was excited and published it on the Internet. In a week or so she called back and said that she had determined that her information was in fact incorrect and that she was cutting her link to it. Great until that false information started to appear on most other Internet sites and is impossible to get removed. It is even included in one of your books that shares the history of that ancestor. There is no point in getting angry at some one because once on the Internet the damage is done forever. The worst part is that many researchers just accepted it and gave up the search for the real family.

  9. Yep, I have been attacked by the Genealogy Police. I’m positive that there are mistakes on the family trees that I’ve published on the internet. As I research deeper into my ancestry, I find that some of the data I had years ago had misspellings, or translation errors, that led me to incorrect data. For instance, one of my grandfather’s records had his father’s name listed as “Micha” (actually Michal). We later found out that Michal was a great uncle; my grandfather either misunderstood the question, or translated it wrong. Another problem I’ve noticed is that after publishing a family tree to a web site, there is often no way to remove the bad data. Yes, I can post a new tree, but that just compounds the problem.

  10. I have a cousin that is notorious for taking family photos of mine and claiming them as her relatives . Case in point ; she posted a photo of my gg-grandparents as the parents of her grandfather’s parents. After years of her doing stuff like this . I finally blew up at her . I’m very careful to try and verify anything I put out there for anyone to see and with one click of her mouse , she screwed up a whole line !

  11. Yes it’s called my brother .

  12. It gets really weird if you have some real historical figures dangling off your tree. I’ve had more than one person trying desperately to connect their own family line to ours because of it. Personally, I find it great fun to know what some of my ancestors were doing and where they were at any time in history, from the “famous” ones to the perfectly ordinary people who make up most of ALL our ancestors. It helps your perspective to remember that your ancestors double with ever generation back. At some point, you have THOUSANDS in one generation alone, so, think about it!!!

  13. Once upon a time I used the Ancestry Message Board. I had asked for help on a family line and I received a very rude comment from this lady that I didn’t give enough info. I told the lady that I didn’t mind being corrected, but she didn’t have to be rude about it. Then I find out it was one of the volunteer researchers for the Board and how dare I say she was rude. I didn’t receive any official notice of being what I call being “black balled” but since that time whenever I have tried to ask for help….no responses at all, when I used to receive many.

  14. I;ve been “arrested” a time or two! heh In the end, though, it was extremely helpful.

    1. Agree. When we share our results, we should want people to offer constructive corrections. I’ve personally changed the whole course of my tree from other people’s input! I’ve found others, however, who feel offended when I offer corrections even tho’ I try to be polite as possible and share every source possible.

  15. The very best research is incomplete based on the best sources that are still fallible. And, no, I’m not describing mine. Please be nice.

  16. I might like to be a police. Name changes (recent) of old records can be veeerry confusing.

  17. As for others copying my work, I feel that what I put on Ancestry, is my gift to the future. None of my family is interested in it. But someone down the line will be and it is there for them. If you have a private tree, at your death all of your hard work is dead also because no one will ever be able to use it again. I try to make my work as accurate and thorough as possible and try to have a source listed for every fact. I think it would help matters if people would stop copying trees that have only one source and that is another tree. I feel that when people are listing info from other relatives, those relatives should be listed as a source.
    People also need to be aware of the history of the time the person was living in. I have a so many great grandfather that is listed as being born in 1741 in Tennessee. The info is copied over in many other trees. Daniel Boone opened up both Tennessee and Kentucky for settling. Daniel was born in 1735. I don’t believe he opened up the way when he was 6. The information should have been evaluated as to the time. Showing pictures of ancestors who died before 1835 is a mistake also because cameras were not invented and readily available until 1835.

  18. Yes, several encounters over the many years I have been researching…I have just learned not to argue, and if they give me an attitude, I “bow out” from contacting them, and find assistance some where else.
    A recent case in point involved an error on my part, with a family blog which I use as a scrapbook for my MEADOWS family of central Alabama.
    To keep this comment short, let’s just say for a short while, I made the entire Blog PRIVATE — now reading your article, I see that I really should not change how I use my Blog. Just how people might find it…so the Blog is once again active, and (somewhat) public.

    It is still my ‘scrapbook’ and will catch any thing I feel is related to my research.
    Thank you, for this article.

  19. Yes! So much that quit sharing my pictures and information. Also people taking my photos claiming them as their own. I welcome knowledge when I have something incorrect but people get ugly about it.

  20. My first attempt at writing a book was met with harsh criticism and it made me stop writing for almost 20years. The bad part was the worst critics never bothered to try to help me correct my errors. They only wanted to criticize. It has taught me to help others and share what I know because everyone’s story is different and we can all learn from each other

  21. That would be my aunt. Lol She’s like the soup Nazi but for genealogy. “No family history for you.”

    1. I have been gifted. My husband’s history goes back to 1190, mine only to 1600. One has to have the research and papers. In my case I have her picture, full blooded Cherokee. My father has all the features, except the eels, his were blue. I have always loved history and we can learn from history.

  22. Oh, yes. Ancestry.com. I call these people Gatekeepers.

    1. I call them ancestry dot CON. There’s so much false and inaccurate information on that site that I shake my head when people say they actually pay for it. Con job.

  23. If you have Indian blood and during the time that Indians still remainder fearful of the Trail of tears, then they filled records and pretending to be white, while all family (old) bibles proved them to be Indiand, they will still tell you no they are not Indian. Even if you have photos of the full blooded one. For years these people lived in fear of being forced to go to OK.

  24. Oh there are some in some groups on FB.

  25. I have corrected other’s misinformation with factual documentation and even then, they refused to accept it. Also, the accusation that someone made up a date to get into the DAR is wrong. I am on the Lineage Research Team of my DAR chapter and I can assure you it is impossible to fake a date or document to get into the DAR.

    1. To ignore documentation is irresponsible and the ostrich mentality. Shame on them.

  26. I’m a very amateur genealogist but I try to use common sense in constructing my family tree. I use Ancestry and one of the cool, but equally frustrating, things about Ancestry is their “hints”. Many of the hints provided are great but many are also so much trash. Looking at other members’ family trees are one source of hints but they are usually the most frustrating. Too many click too quickly on hints that are not viable due to dates that aren’t feasible, etc. I’ve tried gently messaging people about these but too often I get no reply at all, or a curt “thanks”. It’s a thankless job that I do for my own amusement.

  27. Oh, where to start? One relative told another that my mother had a daughter that SHE **THOUGHT** was named Elena. She published that, and I get floods of emails asking me to “correct” that person’s name. EXCEPT THAT **I** am that person, and the name is incorrect. Some people are quite rude, and ignore the part where I tell them that I am the person in question, and my name is HELAINA. This caused problems when my grandfather’s will was settled, because the title company put that wrong name on the court papers, then kept demanding that I furnish proof of my “name change.”

    A cousin got a photo of my mother off my website and published it without permission, then smugly told me I “could buy her book if I wanted it back.” She concluded her letter with a snarky “so there!” (I’ve never heard anybody over the age of four say that!) My husband is a professional photographer and all his work is copyrighted. He would have granted her permission to use it had she asked nicely.

    Don’t get me started on the folks who accuse me of using “their” info “with wrong dates”……. I’ve been doing genealogy since 1990 and my work is my own. Some folks don’t seem to understand that they aren’t the only researches out there……

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