Straight line error

One of the most common mistakes in the study and in the process of building a family history lover’s tree (especially when this is done for the first time) is also one of the most restrictive and potentially harmful mistakes.

Straight line error can be described as a process of researching and adding to your tree only those people from whom you came in a straight line (that is, grandparents, great-grandparents, and no one else). Family history buffs do this either to save time, or to keep the tree size comfortable, or to focus on specific research goals. Outwardly, this type of research seems to make sense – to focus on those who are of great importance to you, plus you can quickly move from generation to generation.

Unfortunately, not everything is so simple.

Some researchers for some reason do not notice that, limiting themselves to only grandfathers in a tree, they seem to read one page out of ten in a historical book.

You not only miss a huge amount of information, but the information you have collected falls out of context. If you want to see a complete picture of the life of your ancestors and make sure (as far as you can see) that this picture is reliable, then you need records and facts that go beyond your straight line.

Researching a wider range of people means that you:

  • Inevitably, in the end, you will discover more facts and records about your grandparents when you spend time studying the lives of their loved ones, plus, you will find life details and documents that you might not have previously guessed or simply missed from mind.
  • It’s easier to get through the dead ends. If you are stuck trying to move to another generation or cannot find an important fact, researching close relatives may give you the breakthrough you need. By studying information for each relative, you increase your chances of finding a clue for further searches.
  • Develop a deeper story for your family. Researching family history is not just collecting names and dates. When we find time to cover the stories of family members of our ancestors, we begin to gain a more detailed picture of our own life, and this helps us understand the challenges, victories, triumphs of our predecessors, their relationships, obligations and goals.
  • You can distinguish one person from another. There is no better way to guarantee that the ancestors you add to your tree are actually who you think they are, and it will not turn out that the names of their brothers and sisters, children or neighbors match. When we don’t have this information available, it’s much easier to make big mistakes.

We noted those details that are usually most useful, however, each case can be unique. You can find out, for example, that the neighbors of your grandfathers and grandmothers played a very important role in their lives, so studying the lives of these neighbors will be most useful. Obviously, most of us do not have so much time to examine all people and in all details, however, adding some basic information can have a beneficial effect on the study.

Who can and should be investigated:

  • Their biological, adoptive or dairy brothers and sisters (in detail).
  • Spouses of their brothers and sisters (basic information).
  • Children of brothers and sisters (basic information).
  • Additional spouses of grandparents (in detail).
  • Their children for all marriages (in detail). Of course, the brothers and sisters of one grandfather are children of another (that is, great-grandfathers), but if you look at these relationships from different perspectives, you can see why this is important.
  • Neighbors (basic information). Especially look at neighbors who have long lived in the neighborhood. These people can be your key to resolving deadlock issues in the future.
  • People who lived with your grandparents. Long-term tenants, friends, distant relatives, servants (basic information).
  • Other people who often appear on your posts.

How far you go is just your choice. However, the larger the circle of research, the more likely it is to get a beautiful picture of the past, filled with depth and accuracy.

To get started, go through your tree and add brothers and sisters. Try to add dates and places of births, marriages and deaths – after all, it is here that you can often get on a gold mine and find the missing information for your tree. If you do not want to add all of them to the tree, then at least make a copy of the genealogy (for work and analysis) or add them to notes on records of direct ancestors.

If this work seems overwhelming, select one branch of your tree where you have more problems, and start with it. Or, set aside an hour or two each week to add siblings to a person. If this is more convenient for you, then do not rush. Do it at your own pace. And who knows what will be revealed to you!


Good luck in finding.