Are you making this common, but critical genealogy mistake? Learn how to avoid it!
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

Avoid This Critical Genealogy Mistake in Your Research

Avoid this critical genealogy mistake in your research. Learn how to find your ancestors, build your family tree and skip costly errors in your research.

They say confession is good for the soul. Well, I have a genealogy confession to make…..

I missed a critical clue in the search for my 4th great grandmother and a significant amount of research time pursuing the wrong family line or just plain stuck. 

Whew!  I guess I do feel better. ?

Here’s the background story…..

Starting my genealogy research, I inquired of family of any information they could share.  Turns out my family knew a lot through oral history. I quickly had the Talbott line back to my great – great – great – great – grandparents Sarah Blanks and Langley Talbott.  A copy of the family Bible confirmed the generations.

My first foray into genealogy.  Really, could it be that easy? Apparently not.

Is your genealogy research stuck? Maybe you made this critical genealogy mistake.

The Genealogy Mistake I Made

A false assumption in my genealogy research led to years of being unable to find out who my 4th great-grandmother really was.

I assumed my 4th great grandparents Langley Talbott and Sarah Blanks  actually married.

In my defense, it was a natural assumption. (Remember, I was a newbie genealogist.)

  • Sarah Blanks’s birth and death dates are listed in the family Bible. 
  • Sarah often went by the surname Talbott in the census records
  • Sarah was named in her “father – in – law’s” will as the mother of my Langley’s children.
  • All of Sarah and Langley’s children took the surname Talbott.

As a seasoned genealogy researcher I returned to the mystery of Sarah Blanks. 

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Brick Wall Ancestor

Go back to the beginning of your research and start over.

“Forget” what you already know. Go back and re-evaluate the records with a new eye.

Why start over? You are a different researcher than you were when you started your research. This holds especially true if you have a long standing research brick wall. You have more research experience. You are more skilled at evaluating records and following up new clues.

So….go back and start over.

I started over on my research into Sarah Blanks  and found an important clue in the  1850 Campbell County, VA will  of David G. Talbot – father of Langley Talbot.

In that will, Langley Talbot is named as David Talbot’s son. David Talbot went on to make a provision for “Langley’s children by Sarah Blanks born after 1823″. As a more experienced researcher, that statement was like a neon sign going off!

woman at computer biting pencil for genealogy mistake

Why would David Talbot refer to Langley’s “wife” and mother of his children in that way and with surname other than Talbott?

Langley and Sarah were not married, and I had missed it very early in my research.

Was there more to this story? 

David’s 1850 will also alluded that Langley Talbot had gambling issues. Yes, I had missed that the first time, too. 

Hmm…no marriage and gambling problems. With more experience under my research belt, I headed for the Campbell County and Halifax County court records. 

Look what I found! An 1841 summons to appear before the grand jury of Halifax County, VA for “living together in open adultery”. 

Talbot Grand Jury Indictment
1841 Halifax Grand Jury Record for Langley Talbot and Sally Blanks

 Notice that date of 1841 on the grand jury summons and the 1823 date in the will of David Talbot. Sarah’s first child with Langley was born about 1823.  Langley and Sarah had a long standing relationship and essentially a common law marriage.

So not to leave you hanging, I’ll skip to the end of the story. Sarah Blanks was the young widow of Thomas Blanks and the mother of the couple’s only son Alfred Blanks.  Sarah’s maiden name was Talley.  Shortly after her first husband’s death, Sarah and Langley got together.

How to Avoid Making Genealogy Mistakes in Your Research

woman thinking

One of the most important ways to prevent making false assumptions and genealogy mistakes in your genealogy research is to take your time in the records. Spend time evaluating your ancestor’s records. Do not just look for a date and your ancestor, but really consider what else the document is telling you.

If your brick wall ancestor is a female, make sure you understand the role of women in society for that time period. Additionally, make sure you understand the culture of the community.

Go after those less commonly used genealogy records such as grand jury records and tax records.  Get into the court records and make sure you read every single page pertaining to your ancestor. 

Lastly, listen to your genealogy gut. Does the record you found make sense? Do you feel like something’s a little off in the information? Don’t ignore that feeling, but follow up on it! Avoid making the same genealogy mistake I did!

Is some ways I am glad I made that genealogy mistake in my research.  I learned a lot as a genealogy researcher and no longer make those assumptions about my ancestors. 

Other posts of interest:

***Note: If you are a Talbott genealogy researcher, you’ll want out to reach to me.  Have I got a story for you…..

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  • susan e mersereau

    I too found an early marriage of my grandfather’s sister. Her married name was listed in my great grandfather’s (her father’s) will. From there I found a child by them (long story) and that she lived about 2 hours from me in 2016 after being adopted at the age of 2. She was in her 90’s and very forgetful. Her children said she appreciated the pictures of her grandparents but no longer could communicate coherently. Sad.

  • Rachida T Djebel

    My parents had three children together -two of whom they abandoned. My sister and I were the abandonées, both adopted to separate couples. In my paternal grandmother’s bible is listed the date of marriage for this couple., but military records refute the date in question as he was in the south Pacific on that day.

    I have searched in vain and spent much time and money (for search fees) to find the certificate of marriage to no avail. Those who might have information are long deceased. The other mystery is how these tow met as she was born to an immigrant family in OH, and he to a couple from the plains states who moved to ID in 1936 during the depression. It doesn’t help that both were, sadly inveterate prevaricators .. (My paternal grandparents had ten children between them.)

    • LisaL

      You do have some tough mysteries on your hands. It’s possible your paternal grandmother added the marriage to the Bible for appearances and they actually never married – having children out of wedlock would have been looked down upon.

  • Reba Abrassart Worth

    To my knowledge, my Belgian great grandparents never married—what a shock that was to me! A French Find A Grave volunteer contacted me concerning my great grandmother’s memorial because I had her maiden name wrong. As it turned out, she was using her mother’s maiden name after she immigrated and not her own! For confirmation, I asked if the French researcher could send me my grandfather’s Jumet, Belgium birth certificate, which he did from the online Belgian records. My grandfather’s birth certificate gave the names of his unmarried parents, along with the complete names of my great grandmother’s parents. Since my great grandfather declared my grandfather’s birth to the civil government and identified himself as the father, grandfather was not considered illegimate in 1887. Phew!! What a relief. I guess Belgium didn’t have an “open adultery” law.

    • LisaL

      What an interesting story! It also goes to show understanding the law and/or customs of a specific location makes a difference to your research. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kathy

    I saw your note on the Talbott ancestry and am curious. My husband’s gggrandmother was Rebecca Talbott born 1784. I’ve barely scratched the surface on her, but want to know your story.

    • LisaL

      I don’t have a Rebecca Talbott in my tree, but most Talbott lines do go back to the same main line. What is the location of your Talbott ancestors?

  • KarenW

    I discovered my grandparents never married either. He was also 40 years older than her. They had three children together. The middle child was born a month before he married another woman. The youngest eight years after he was married to the other woman! I’ve recently met some new cousins who never knew about my father and his sisters, despite them all living in the same neighbourhood. Some families do have them.

    • LisaL

      Karen, I’m far less surprised when I find these types of things than I was early in my research. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Delores

    Hello Lisa,

    Thank goodness your 5th Great Grandfather left a will. Part of the problem I have with my research is the person didn’t leave a will. I found my 3rd Great Grandfather because he left a will and he also sold land to his daughter married to Jeremiah Cecil.
    I find it interesting when ancestors didn’t leave a will. Even more interesting when there isn’t a will and people assume that a woman, who is 72 years old in the 1910, would pack up and move from Giles County, Virginia where all of her children and grandchildren are living and move to Russell County, Virginia. Doing a search it would take close to two hours to drive by car from Pembroke, Virginia to Lebanon, Virginia. I just don’t see a 72 year old female leaving her children and grandchildren and moving that far away. Especially since she would be traveling by wagon. Also there is a document in the Giles County courthouse that she owned property when she died and that she died without a will.
    Also ancestors owned “Private house of entertainment” so that someone else’s ancestor could quarter his troops there during a snowstorm. That is what makes genealogy interesting the unexpected information and documents that we find.

  • Hazel Thornton

    Love that story! I think we almost have to make mistakes like that in order to learn. But was it really a mistake? I agree completely that going back later with more seasoned eyes can often lead to breaking down a brick wall. But would anyone else not have made the same assumption going in? A corollary is that we always need to be open to new information and reevaluate what we’ve got if something doesn’t jive. Thanks for sharing!

  • Loralee

    Boy, can I relate top this article!
    I wasted 15 years on a brickwall, all because as a brand-new researcher I had seen a Find-a-Grave entry for my gg-grandmother that said her maiden name was Carter.
    So… guess what I searched for fruitlessly for 15 years, never thinking until then “Hmmm… I wonder where that person got that maiden name from?”
    Once I began questioning the original name, I found another record that said her maiden name was HAWKINS. (I probably had run across that record before, but dismissed it as incorrect, because it had another detail wrong as well.)

    • Jean

      Great story and lessons here, Lisa! A comment from Loralee about being led astray by a Find-a-Grave entry gave me a good idea for a blog post for you, if you haven’t already done it: Find-a-Grave memorials and Ancestry member trees should be considered “suggestions” rather than “documentation.” The information there is often filled with errors, and yet people take it as gospel and copy it, and then others come along and copy THEIRS and so on and on and on.

  • Sue

    Great blog! It is very hard to not make assumptions. Most of the time we don’t even realize we are doing it. I am sure some of my brickwalls are due to assumptions as well, especially those lines I researched years ago.

  • Miranda

    Your post is an EYE opener.

    I have researched relentlessly for the marriage records of one of my ancestors and have drawn a BLANK on ALL occasions, actually exhausting my research and I have now come to the END of my research with NO other avenues to explore.

    I have reached the conclusion that my relative was NEVER actually officially married, but he was in a relationship and he had two children.

    I never really wanted to accept that they were never legally married, but that is exactly what it has come down to.

    Thanks for the imput, I really appreciated it.

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