Family History Beginners #1: 5 Mistakes I Made

(George Eastman House/Flickr Commons)



Note- These are my lessons learned through six years of off and on again research into my family history.  On ladder of genealogical experience I consider myself only one rung higher than beginner.  That makes these mistakes very fresh in my mind.  


My first "research" attempt was in 2006.  Whether on a whim, or due to my grandmother's death, I cannot say.  Ancestry.com was my first stop, as I believe it is for most of us under thirty (not implying that it is a good thing).  At the time I knew very little about my family history, certainly nothing of substance.  After adding my pair of grandparents and asking my mother about great grandparents I stood at a genealogical crossroads.  Do I sit down and research, look for documentation?  In that case I did not.  I wanted answers, history, something profound and I wanted it as soon as possible.  This is one of the clearest lessons to me now.  Patience.  Like anything else in life genealogy takes time, a long time.  I've lost count how many times I've come back, after a day or month, to a record or particular brick wall in my tree only for it to make complete sense.  Periodically go over already collected information.  Another embarrassing mistake, assuming others work is correct.  There is some incredible, fully fleshed out trees and collections out there.  More often than not it can be a dumpster fire.  Don't judge a tree's correctness by its number of ancestors, judge it by your ability to trace their work through their sources.  Always check someone else's work before accepting it as fact.  This had an unknown impact on my own work.  I never cited any of my work, let alone give credit to those that deserved it, legally or otherwise.  I myself had given birth to a dumpster fire family tree of my own.  Second problem, with no sources cited I had no idea where my mistakes began or ended.  Cite sources.  I sort of already mentioned it but

don't assume because something is on the internet it is yours to do what you please.  Fact of the matter, very little of it is.  A source is more likely to mention it is free of use than that it has a cost to its rights.  Don't assume content is free, be active and search out the answer.  Sometimes that will mean sending an email and waiting for a response.  It's not only fair, in most cases it is what the law requires.