23 October 2012

What I Wish I Had Known When I Started

I posted this very question to the Facebook wall for Genealogy Tip of the Day before starting this post, just to see if it would generate some conversation.  So some of the ideas posted there may be repeated in my own post here.

Part of what we wish we had known depends upon how deeply our involvement in genealogy develops and upon how complicated (or uncomplicated) our family is. Also when a person (in my case, kid) starts researching at the age of thirteen, there are a great deal of things about life in general that one does not necessarily know. As a result, keep in mind that some of the things I wish I had known have as much to do about life as they do about genealogy. And these suggestions reflect my own research and experience.

Record everything.

What you think is meaningless in ten years may be very significant.

Track where you get it.

Your citations do not need to be in the form of Evidence Explained, but they should be emulate it in spirit. Initially, you will want to at least be able to go back and look at things again. As your research progresses and you become a more sophisticated genealogist, you'll see there's more to citation than just "where I got it."

Don't believe everything.

Any document, record, source, or person can be wrong. Even Grandma. Especially Grandma if she doesn't want you to know her brother was divorced or that her great-uncle hung himself.

Spelling doesn't matter.

Genealogy is not grade school or high school English where correct spelling is important. Documents will include different renderings of your ancestors' names. Copy them as they are written. If the name "sounds like" the one for which you are looking, it very well may be.

People are clannish.

Your ancestors did business with and married into families that were of their own ethnic and social background, at least the vast majority of the time. This does not make them bad people. We still tend to do this today.

My ancestors are interesting.

It took me a while to be proud of the fact that I had non-famous, run-of-the mill ancestors.

That's really it. There are lots of suggestions for beginning researchers, but those are things that I wish I had known in those first few years of research. The importance of asking relatives, identifying photographs, and using the courthouse were not really things I wish I had known--I was aware of those from the start. Not everyone is that fortunate. I grew up a few miles from the courthouse in the county where my family had lived since the 1850s and used a variety of local records from the very start of my research.

And there was no internet, so the importance of offline research wasn't an issue.