To Change or Not to Change



Many times various persons write to me asking that I make a change in some entry on the website.

Most times I just go ahead and take care of this.

However, recently I have found myself asking the question:

Should it be changed?

You might also ask yourself the same question in coming upon differences in your data as compared to someone else's.

It may not appear to be an area worthy of any type of ponderable thought, but it is. The choice is much the same as any other choice made in life; you have the "easy way" and the "right way".

Some items should be considered if even briefly.

  The name on a gravestone

This would depend on several different things such as just where you found the correction you are going to make. Did YOU actually go to the cemetery and see the stone? There could be many reasons why the name on the stone differs from what you have or believe.

1. It was common (unfortunate, but common) for persons to be buried with a nickname or a middle name.

2. Some females were only buried under the name of "Mrs. John Smith"

3. The name they went by all their lives and therefore on any records you find may well be a middle name and the actual first name is on the stone.

4. Initials on gravestones are very common.

Obituaries/ Newsclippings

Changing any errors in these I guess would be a personal decision as to just how authentic you wish your records to be.

Do you want the obituaries you have to contain what you perceive to the be "correct" information? or do you want them to appear as they were written by the family members at the time?

Even if you know that they missed a person in the survivor listings, you may not wish to change it.


It could and does sometimes signify a deliberate non recognition of a family member perhaps giving you a clue as to the family associations.

Layout of a Cemetery

Reading the various cemetery listings would be much easier in alphabetical order I grant you. However, in doing so you are missing so much of the potential genealogical value that could be there. There may be certain family connections that you were not aware of before finding them buried in another family's plot.

Census Record Listings

I feel that these should really be left alone.

Make a copy for yourself that is more legible, but also retain a copy of the original.


In re-copying them, you might feel like "correcting" a child's name or age. This alters the true data. In viewing the census records "as they sit" shows you perhaps nicknames used within the families. Perhaps this doesn't appear to be an important piece of information, but I know personally of some persons who received nicknames as children, carried them throughout their lives, used them on legal documents to the point that not many people actually knew their real name.

So, if you are searching for a person named : John Edward Stephenson and he is listed in the census records as Edward (because his father is also John) and this name of Edward remains with him. You could be wasting years of research looking for "John" when he is listed right there before your eyes as "Edward".

In copying census records off for your records and you right the "correct should be" name and don't retain a copy of the original, you are just passing along another piece of bad data. When you use it for reference, you are referencing the wrong name. When someone asks for data from you, you will send them that copy and further spread inaccurate data.

Wills and Probate Records

To gain the true genealogical value from any document or find any hidden clues, nuances or implications. YOU WANT WHAT YOUR ANCESTOR ACTUALLY WROTE.

It is fine to type out a copy for legibility purposes and make notes in the margin of errors, but please leave the actual wording in the original context.

Ship Listings/Different Spellings

Many of our ancestors arrived here from other countries. Many of the persons recording this data spelled phonetically at best. Save these spellings as you might find them elsewhere in researching.

For several reasons many families have numerous spellings on their surname.

These can range from being illiterate and depending on someone else's spelling to their own desire to be different or sometimes it is a family rift and disassociation from "them". These items you want to save for reference. I have one family name that has AT LEAST 12 different spellings seemingly changed at will. I keep all of them as if these ancestors were using a particular spelling I can also look for those.

In closing, when dealing with the older documents/ records it is always best to leave them as they are unless you have absolute proof that the information is in error.

(This includes changing the number of children in a Will to match the number of children that "you" think they had.)