10 Tips for the Newbie Genealogist

family tree

Over the last 30 years, I have learned a few things when it comes to genealogy.  Some do’s and some don’ts.  So, below are some tips and tricks that I have learned over the years.

1.  Don’t assume anything!  Just because someone’s death certificate states that their parent’s name was so and so, DO NOT ASSUME that it’s true!  Death certificate information is given by the family and could be wrong.  Always verify with other documentation, especially birth records which was filled out by the parents.  Census records, church records, etc. are all good places to verify information.

2.  Everyone gets excited when they see the shaking leaf.  Unfortunately, many of those hints are from other people’s trees or the “Millennium File”.  I never, ever trust these.   I learned this the hard way when I followed one tree all the way back to Adam & Eve.  Really?  Many times, there are no sources.  You can use these as a starting point if you are stuck, but ALWAYS verify the information with your own sources!  I tend to just ignore all of these hints as I prefer to do my own work.

3.  I also tend to ignore the hints from Web: *.*.  These are hints from elsewhere on the web and are not actual records.  Very similar to the Millenium Files.  Unless it is an actual record or tombstone that I can see a picture of, I tend to ignore it.  Ditto for Family Data Collections.

4.  Get or print a hard copy of your source!  If you have everything on your computer, that is dangerous!  You could lose everything at the drop of a hat.  So, hard copies are still the best way to ensure that you don’t lose everything.  Also, back up, back up, back up!  I have had to start my family tree over twice.  Thankfully, I did have hard copies of everything and was able to recreate it.

5.  Organize!  Everyone has their own way of organizing their records.  Whether it be a filing cabinet or notebooks, start off with one system and continue.  Just make sure that you can find something when you need it!  I will explain my organizational system at another time.  Make sure your sources use the same type of format in your computer family tree.  Many times when you say “yes” to a hint, it will automatically download the source information.  Make sure you go to that source on your tree and it is filed correctly and in the same format that you always use.

6.  Get a stand alone computer program.  Ancestry is great, but you have to be online to do all your work.  If you want to take your work with you, then a stand alone program is the way to go.  There are a lot of great programs out there.  I have looked at them all, but I always go back to Family Tree Maker.  I have been working on it for 20+ years, and I prefer it.

7.  Take a break!  I have been stuck on this one brick wall for 20+ years.  I take a break, then come back to it.  Get frustrated again, take a break, then come back to it.  Genealogy is a process and is never-ending.  I go in spurts; working on my tree for a month, then on my husbands.  However, you will burn yourself out if you work until 3 am every single day.  Take time out!  Have other hobbies!  Don’t spend every waking hour on your family tree!

8.  Spend your money wisely!  Don’t order every single record on every single family member.  Honestly, I stick to my direct ancestors.  I do not bother with siblings.  Yes, I try to get information on them, but beyond, birth, life, and death records, I don’t care.  I don’t care who they married or who their children are.  They are not my line, so I don’t waste my time or money.  When you do order records, make sure you order the entire record.  If you are going to spend the money, don’t order the condensed version.  Get the whole thing!  You will be surprised what you can find on an original Social Security Application or in a Military Record.

9.  The more records you have for a person, the better!  Birth, Marriage, Death are the important ones, but Wills, newspaper articles, tax and land records, can all be interesting reads and can hold a wealth of information.  Take census records with a grain of salt.  Many census records were filled out by neighbors or the census taker as reading and writing were a novelty in the old days.  If they could not understand the person talking, they would just guess.

10.  The most important tip that I can give, is have fun with it!  If you don’t get excited when you find a new ancestor, then what is the point?

Hope these tips help and newbies that may be contemplating starting their family tree.  Have fun and research on!


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