Thursday, April 9, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over - Cycle 2 - Week One - Best Practices and Guidelines with Beginners in Mind

Photo taken by Stephen D Matthews, my dad, ca. 1950
 
In my last post I said I was working on best practices and guidelines for my research. It seems like it's going to be a pretty long list, so I am posting it in two parts.  The guidelines below are the lessons I have already learned in some sense and I hope will be helpful to any beginners out there.

There was a discussion recently in a Google hangout that I was watching about how much information to throw at someone who is a newcomer to family research. I mean even people like me who have been at this for a few years can feel overwhelmed sometimes, a sentiment I have seen expressed often on the Geneabloggers Do-Over Facebook page.

I started my genealogical journey just wanting to answer a handful of questions, now I want the whole enchilada. Whatever our individual goals are for our research, we all want that research to be productive.  I believe these guidelines will serve that purpose well, even as your goals may change over time.

1. DON'T EXPECT TO FIND YOUR WHOLE TREE ONLINE.
          I don't mean to be a killjoy but I'm not a huge fan of the Ancestry.com commercials that make genealogy look like a one afternoon project.  Especially one I have seen recently where the woman finds three generations in someone else's tree. This has happened to me twice and finding those trees was really fun but I had to realize that I know nothing about the tree owner's research and research methods. If you find a tree with your ancestors in it, by all means reach out to your newfound cousin and get to know them, but take their tree with a grain of salt, don't assume accuracy.

2. DON'T ASSUME YOU WILL FIND YOUR 4TH GREAT-GRANDMOTHER IN A WEEK.
          I am a huge fan of "Who Do You Think You Are", but they may make it look a bit too easy.  Did you know that approximately 2,000 hours of research go into each episode?  And they hire professionals!

3. LEARN TO RECORD YOUR SOURCES OF INFORMATION.
          The sooner you start doing this, the better. You will be forever thankful that you took the time to note it and cite it now.

4. START WITH A RESEARCH LOG. START IT NOW.
          Sooner or later you will hear someone joke about ordering a birth certificate three times because they forgot they already had it or had tried to find it.  With an active research log, this will never happen to you and you will rejoice.

5. JOIN A GENEALOGICAL GROUP OR SOCIETY.
         They sometimes have great finds, they always have good advice!

6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA.
          I have joined a half-dozen Facebook genealogy groups this year and learned from each one of them.  I have also joined a couple of Google+ communities, and this has been invaluable.  Most family historians love to help other family historians. Remember that if you feel overwhelmed.

7. DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND LEARN THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE AREA YOUR ANCESTOR CAME FROM.
          For me, this is what makes genealogy fun.  Learning about my ancestors' lives, their surroundings, the social and political climate, even the fashions of the day.

And I forgot one, ask questions as well as advice.  Feel free to start here. If you have any questions about anything in this post (like "What is a research log?" or "How do I cite my sources?"), feel free to ask!

Numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7 were altered from this post of Do's and Don'ts by Alona at Lonetester HQ. I realize that, ironically, this is not cited properly, but I just got my copy of Evidence Explained in the mail yesterday.

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