Thursday, August 07, 2008

Using Ancestry to climb a brick wall

I had a reader recently ask me where to find accurate GEDCOM files that they could copy and import into their family tree. The obvious answer is nowhere. Unless you do the work yourself, it is hard to truly believe anything you find or are given. However, I responded somewhat along these lines...

It can be tough to find reliable GEDCOM files on the Internet. However, I would suggest that you use a large site such as A lot of people do not trust the information at because no one double-checks anything that is posted by its users. All of the data there has to be taken with a grain of salt. However, I find that the volume of data at allows you to compare the research of a lot of people and decide which parts you think are correct. I use what other people have found (or claim to have found) to help direct my next research step. I always go back and verify what they claim but it saves me a lot of time, keeps me from starting with zero.

Assuming that you are not a member of, I would suggest that you sign up for a free trial and try to copy as much info as you can during that free period. If you find all that you need, cancel the membership and do not pay anything. (I have been a paying member for around eight years now and I still find their service valuable.) Copy what you can, going back later to see what you came up with, sort out what you think is garbage, keep what you think is good and go from there. It will at least give you a nice head start on documenting things for yourself.

For example, if I needed to know the father of Bobby Jo Malone who died in Mecklenburg County in 1790 (a totally fictitious example), I could do a search on Ancestry and see what others have found. I might find ten trees with Bobby Jo and maybe three claim to have his parents. I could see what notes those files contain and what sources they cite. One might have a transcribed will of Bobby Jo's father, naming Bobby Jo as his son, in a county I never thought of checking! I could then turn around, go to the archives, and get a copy of the will for myself. I may have never found that document otherwise since I would have never checked that particular county.

I have extended many of my own family lines using this technique and would recommend it to anyone, especially if you are facing a brick wall. (Your brick wall might be common knowledge to someone else).

You can click on the link below if you would like to start a free trial at I think this link will give you fourteen days for free... Free Trial

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