Genealogical research while fascinating is full of pitfalls. Number one in my book is not putting any faith whatsoever in nearly all of the family websites or trees on the internet. Why? Most are completely undocumented, contain such ludicrous facts as a male fathering a child at the age of 2 or a couple marrying, even in the 17th or 18th centuries, at the age of 4 or 5. Whereas this may have been the case for European royalty in earlier centuries, it certainly wasn't the case in the colonies.
It is possible to gain clues from some of the better-documented sites, but absolutely everything must be verified. For example, sometimes I can gain insight into family from a partially-documented site and then be able to find the documentation to prove many of the assertions from the website. On the other hand, some family websites I've visited have ridiculous assertions: such as naming parents of someone with their birth and death dates in Northern Ireland when all the pertinent records of births/death/marriages in both Ireland and Northern Ireland were destroying in a terrorist bombing in 1922.
One has to try to look at wills, estate administrations, deeds, family bibles, pension applications, court records, etc., to gain any factual information about people. For example, few marriage records have survived from the 18th century, but at least the first names and, if one is very lucky the surnames, of wives can be sometimes determined by land transactions, but this is very tedious research.
Virginia records are a different type of problem. The Virginia State LIbrary has refused for over a dozen years to replace microfilm from their original sources. Even the Family History Center in Salt Lake City has only limited rolls of microfilm of these records. I've made two trips to this library, but it would take numerous trips to verify all that needs it so I've had to rely on secondary sources, such as Chalkley's collections of Augusta County records. On one such trip, the wait for the microfilm machines was 4 to 5 hours.
It is also important to understand that many vital records have been lost down through the years to fires, civil wars, insects, and carelessness. This is partly why there is so much interest on the part of serious genealogists on DNA. There is one significant "find" in the Thomas genealogy which was made possible through Y-DNA testing. I explain it with respect to the Thoma family (not on this particular site). Without my autosomal DNA posted, I would not have been contacted by the Thomas Family Project. Based on my thoroughly-researched information, they were able to find several male descendants to perform the vital Y-DNA tests which proved to be a major link for their project.
I no longer participate actively in DNA research because of a complete change of focus by FamilyTreeDNA. DNA is useful ONLY if the participants have accurate family information. I found entirely too many potential relations who had absolutely nothing and yet expected a fully-delineated family tree based on their DNA. While some truly serious genealogists continue to work with it, I've elected not to waste my time on it.
Because children whose only proof of parentage is that cited by census enumerations of 1850, 1860, or 1870, these relationships are considered only provisional. Beginning in 1880, family relationships were delineated in the census. Some careful genealogists, therefore, have created what are known as "provisional children", something I don't want to do. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, families often took in orphaned relatives and/or even completely unrelated children, there being no safety net for these children. Sometimes, one can find mention of this practice in Court Orders and Vestry Books in the 18th century, but this is infrequent.
With respect to family bibles, there are issues as well. Unless you have access to the original bible or a good image scan, it may not be possible to tell if it can be considered reasonably accurate. Why? Old bibles often disintegrate over time and descendants re-create the facts from "their" family bible. It is often possible to determine this through handwriting. If I find an image of a bible with dates beginning in the 1700s and continuing into the late 1800s-1900s all in the same handwriting, I know the names and dates have been copied. Any time anything is copied there are chances of errors, be it with bibles, wills, deeds, etc. If the family bible was transcribed by someone unfamiliar with accurately describing this valuable source, they may not explain the different handwriting or supply the publication date of the bible.Therefore, one has to be careful in using these records
The same care must be taken with any record. How close to the actual event was it created? The closer, the better. Is the record a copy and by whom was it copied. Did the compiler of a set of records understand what they were compiling (applies particularly to deed records)? I could go with much more, but I hope you are getting the idea that none of this is easy.
I believe I have occasionally referred to something as not meeting the Genealogical Standard of Proof. We use the Genealogical Proof Standard as our guide for the journey in genealogical research. The five steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard are the essential parts of the process that we use to conduct genealogy.
The five steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard are:
1. Conduct a thorough and reasonably exhaustive search for relevant information on the event, person, or relationship under consideration.
2. Accurately cite every source used.
3. Correctly analyze the information gathered.
4. Address and resolve any potential conflicts that the evidence may present to a proposed solution.
5. Provide a soundly reasoned, well-written conclusion based upon your research.