Skip To Content
Plan Your Visit

Welcome to the International African American Museum! Advanced timed tickets are required for all visitors. Popular dates and times may be sold out.

Sep 25, 2017

African American Genealogy: Three Important Elements of a Family Tree

Family Tree

Family Tree

This is the final post in the series about mistakes family historians sometimes make. Most of us use a family tree to keep track of the names and events in the lives of our ancestors. How many of us have considered what makes up the foundation of a well constructed tree?  Three important elements set certain trees apart from the rest.

Record the Stories

Our ancestors lives were more than just a skeletal account of names dates and places. They lived full lives. We become interested in them because of the stories that we have heard about them. If we do not know them, we are that much more curious about who they were and what their lives were like.

Discovering their stories fuels the fire that burns within us to continue searching for more.  Whatever knowledge we have gained about our ancestors needs to be preserved.  The family trees at and both have been designed for us to add stories or memories to our ancestor’s individual record. When we share the stories, we make the experience for those who follow in our footsteps that much more meaningful.


You never really know where on your journey of discovery that you will come across a photo of an ancestor that you have never seen before. The most rewarding experience is to learn about cousins you have never met and to have them share photographs about your ancestors. Photographs make a family tree really come to life as you attach them to the record of your ancestor on the tree.

Technology has advanced so much today that we can pull out a mobile device and have an instant image of an ancestor which was previously only in a family member’s possession. We no longer ever have to physically borrow the photo.  The quality of these digital images is often just as good as most cameras in our possession, and they can be instantly uploaded to our online tree.


One thing is certain. You can be missing a photograph or a story for many individuals on a family tree, and it does not take away from the integrity of your research.  If you are missing sources or records to verify names, dates, places, or events for any individual on the tree, no one will be able to be sure that the information you have gathered is factual. Whoever tries to trace your steps will only be able to guess which records you discovered and where you accessed those records.

Far too many family trees are based on other family trees where only assumptions without sources were made. The fact this happens is so obvious when you compare different trees that carry the same information (often gross errors) without sources. and both have the added functionality of being able to attach records and add new sources. When distant relatives review an individual on the tree where multiple records are attached, it is much easier for them to tell if your ancestor is actually their ancestor.

Family trees are the most accessed tools in family history research. The questions that we need to contemplate are, “Are we contributing to the degree of accuracy in the information we are sharing online,” or “Are we creating snares for the next unsuspecting person who comes along?” A tree without a source may only be a fable.

Sharpen the Saw

We are seeking opportunities to assist you with finding documentation on your ancestor.  Review what you would like to learn about an ancestor on your family tree, and share the link to their profile on the Facebook post for this article. Let us know what you want to document.