Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday's Tip - One Piece of Advice

I was recently contacted by a former student and asked for advice about how to start researching his family history. He had one line that his grandmother had researched back for thirteen generations but many other lines with brick walls. He is using Ancestry.com. I gave him my abbreviated version to get him started and I know there are many, many resources out there that describe the process but I was wondering this...

  1. What was the biggest mistake you made when you started? 
  2. What is one thing you wish someone told you when you were starting out? 
  3. What is your most helpful resource today? 
  4. What is one piece of advice that helps you keep your enthusiasm going when you feel lost and frustrated? 

My answers - if you are willing to contribute to a follow-up post, please leave your answers in the comments and if you blog about your genealogy, leave me a link so I can include it in the future post. 

  1. Biggest mistake - not keeping track of/documenting sources of information
  2. I wish I knew - how poorly documented and inaccurate many of the online family trees are
  3. Most helpful resource - probably Dropbox - it's where I save images of the documents I find online to source my family tree. It's important to source but it's taken awhile to find a way to keep electronic images so I can easily go back to them. I create a surname folder and then subfolders for each family group and file census records, relevant images from NEHGS etc. in the appropriate folder. A very close second is the online geneabloggers community. I encouraged him to start a blog. 
  4. One piece of advice - keep two trees. One that is carefully documented and one that is undocumented or partially documented to be used a clues for future research. When one line gets you down, switch to another so you get some success to keep you motivated. 

I don't believe that genealogy is the realm of the retired. I know plenty of young people like this 21 year old who are very interested and excited by exploring their ancestry. It's a matter of finding the time in their busy schedules and encouragement. Like most of us, they will make rookie mistakes but they will get better with practice. 


  1. 1)Biggest Mistake - not keeping track of successful / failed searches; can't tell you how many, MANY times I have repeated my efforts because I hadn't realized that I had already been down that road.

    2)I wish - I knew how to IMPROVE my searching efforts. Oft times I read how google is the genealogist's friend, but that hasn't been my experience. I have even purchased books on the subject written by other genealogists - and, still not having the success they've had. But, I am determined to continue my efforts to learn and improve.

    3)Most Helpful Resource - I have two (err three . . .
    - LiveStream / YouTube Tutorials by the Barefoot Genealogist, Crista Cowan of ancestry.com. Her presentations are awesome! And, I learn so much from her. She's easy to listen to and her excitement and passion for the subject is contagious.

    - OneNote; I've created Notebooks for each surname and tabs within each for each family member. Each person then has a 'General Information' Tab where I create a timeline for that individual - ie; Full Name, Name variations, Known Surname Misspellings, Birth, Marriage, Divorce (if applicable), and Death. I also capture where they've lived and/or worked (using census records, city directories, military records), to track them throughout their life. This allows me to see if there any holes or discrepancies and helps me build my research plan. I am also able to capture the records I have on each individual, creating a backup of the information I have on my ancestry in the cloud.

    - Blogs (Genealogy / Family History); since deciding to start my own Blog, Family Preserves (see link), I have started reading AND following many blogs. They are a wealth of information; there is something out there for everyone - expert, intermediate, novice, hobbyist. http://tlcmeyers.blogspot.com/

    - One piece of advice; question 3 allows me to seguey into my one piece of advice . . . utilize, utilize, utilize social media to the FULLEST. The potential to connect with 'cousins,' to capture the interest of known family members (you know, the ones that to this point haven't been interested), and to fellow researchers is awesome. And, the benefits of that is that soon you are hearing and finding information - bread crumbs - that will help you find that elusive ancestor and tear down the wall - perhaps one brick at a time OR it could come crumbling down. Exciting.

  2. 1. Biggest Mistakes - Not keeping detailed enough legible notes of sources I have consulted and the results (both positive and negative; rushing too much at sources when I have only limited time at an archive centre; in an attempt to save money and not pay for photocopies/microfilm downloads, I don't write down all the detail I should. The result - I get home and discover I have missed out some vital piece of information have and to go back to the sources anyway. A case of less haste more speed!

    2. I wish I had realised that online trees were not he greatest asset in family history research.

    3. Most Helpful Resource - my family history blog. It is through my blog that two distant cousins made contact and provided me with a wonderful collection of photographs. The comments, tips and encouragement from fellow bloggers is invaluable.

    4. Keep persevering - you never know when you suddenly may come across that vital connection.