Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tripping Right Out of the Gate--Mistakes Doing Family Research

When I started my first tree on, I made many mistakes.  The primary one I made was accepting sources as facts applicable to my "people" without doing proper analysis and review.  So, when I found a record for the Johnson branch of my tree, I just slapped it in and moved on.  Before you know it, my grandfather had brothers and a huge extended family, which I later discovered was WRONG.  He had no siblings, so the brothers I found didn't belong in my tree.  I had not only wasted a great deal of time, but I poisoned my tree with bad data.  It's difficult to go back and purge after you've added numerous people and sources to your tree, especially when it involves multiple branches.

I had to drop back and regroup.  What was I doing wrong?  Well, first of all, let me give credit to the professional genealogists out there.  My respect for you is enormous, and it has grown as I've learned more.  I know you have been doing this for years, and many have professional certifications and training that I am now working on.  It is from you that I've discovered how much I really have to learn, and also much more.

Besides the tutorials available on many ancestry sites, both subscription and free, I discovered that many genealogical societies offer "webinars," which is a training seminar that can be viewed live (and sometimes later, at your leisure) and online.  Usually there is a Q & A period afterwards, where you can ask the presenter something about the topic being covered.  In addition, Family Tree Webinars (associated with Legacy Family Tree Software) offers a yearly subscription to their webinar program.  They typically have a new webinar each Wednesday, and members can view nearly 200 hours' worth of archived webinars.  You can search these by topic, or presenter.  It's been through these webinars that I have learned an incredible amount about genealogy, not only regarding the research process, but also about accepted industry standards and the resources that are available to online genealogists of all levels of experience.  Some of the experts who present these webinars are so good, I make time to listen to them any chance I get.  My favorite, Thomas MacEntee, is my genealogy hero.  His background is similar to mine, in that his career was, for quite some time, in the Information Technology industry.  His profession is now in Genealogy, with an emphasis on using technology.  He is a dynamic speaker, easy to relate to, an avid blogger, and generous in sharing his knowledge and experience.  He is what I aspire to be, one day.  If you get a chance, check out his webinars or look for conferences where he is scheduled to appear.

The biggest mistake I made was rapidly accepting "hints" in without vigilantly reviewing them.  I was so excited, naive, and untrained that I just hit "Save to my Tree" and moved on.  It wasn't long before my tree was completely corrupted with inaccuracies and lots of folks whom I'm sure were very nice but aren't related to me.  If I was going to be serious about this, I needed to learn more before I proceeded.  Luckily for me, and any budding genealogist, there are multitudes of learning resources available on the internet, many of them free.  I now plan my genealogy time to include self-training time, instead of just research, research, research. And, let me add, this is not meant to be a knock on  It is a tremendous resource that has allowed me to get my feet wet in this endeavor, and I highly recommend it to anyone doing family research.  Just like most things, knowing how to use it properly is the key to maximizing its utility.

The main point of today's post is that, unless you are already an experienced genealogist/family historian, set your expectations properly.  This is going to take time.  It's more like the tortoise than the hare.  Ensuring accuracy for your project(s) takes careful analysis and review of your sources.  This is where I made mistakes in the early phases of my project.  Don't take anything at face value.  If this is a new concept to you, then I would say you could definitely benefit from those many educational resources that are available...before you end up with a tree that is overgrown and filled with branches that belong somewhere else.

No comments:

Post a Comment