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!


Memorial Day


041911 (88)

On this Memorial Day 2016, I can’t help but remember the family that have served to help make, and keep, our county free.  I have so many ancestors that have served that I feel very attached to every single conflict that our country has been involved in.

Going back in time, my father served in Laos during the Vietnam Conflict, both my grandfather’s served in World War II,  my great grandfather served in World War I; numerous ancestors served in the Civil War, the War of 1812 and my 5x great grandfather was named the “Daddy of the Revolution” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.


Ripley’s Believe It or Not

Whenever I think of my grandfather, I think of a story that he used to tell about his time in the army.  Like most youngsters, he felt the need to sign up after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  On May 2, 1942 he enlisted.  Like many enlisted men, he had lied about something in order to be eligable for englistment.

You see, my grandfather had a degenerative eye disorder called retinous pigmentosa.  RP basically takes your peripheral vision and dim light vision from you, making it so you can’t see to the side or see at night.  You end up with only a pinpoint of clear vision.  It is a progressive disease that starts off small and eventually completely blinds you.  Basically, he was legally blind from the age of 18.

He was shipped out to basic training at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana.  He was young and like most young men, thought that he had the world at his fingertips.  Other than his eyesight, he was a very healthy young man.  To keep his commanders in the dark about his disability, he would follow the other young men in his company.  His commanders thought he was a good soldier until one day in July 1942.  You see, one day while on a run, he ran into a tree.

1942.05 (1) - Neilsen.Lorry - Army Company

Company “F”, 344th Engineer Regiment, Camp Claiborne, Louisiana – May, 1942

Later in life, he would laugh about it, saying that he almost knocked himself out!  The base doctor’s were obviously concerned and did an eye exam, testing his peripheral vision and night vision.  Obviously, he did not have the sight that would help him with being a soldier.  He would not be able to keep an eye on his fellow soldiers or be able to see if they were in trouble.

So, on July 19, 1942 he was honorably discharged from the United States Army.  Even though he was only in the army for a few months, the army still took care of him.  He was a veteran.  Just like any other veteran, he was honored, and is still honored, every Memorial Day.  I am proud of my family roots on this Memorial Day, proud that I can say that my family helped make, and keep, this country free.  Enjoy your day off America, but remember that it was bought and paid for with many lives.

Saint Patrick’s Day


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  Most people think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a drinking holiday.  Whenever I think of Saint Patrick’s Day, I think of my family.  We are actually Irish!

When I was little, my mom used to make green food for dinner.  Green mashed potatoes, green milk, green cookies, everything.  She would put green food coloring in the toilet bowls to make us think that a leprechaun had come to visit our house.  It was all in good fun.

When I was in 7th grade we were given a culminating project.  I chose to do my family tree.  I was especially curious about my paternal grandfather’s line.  I grew up with the knowledge that we were Irish to the bone.  My entire paternal line was Irish.  It was after I graduated high school that I found the truth.  Yes, my grandfather is Irish.  However, we can’t prove his lineage at this point.  We are stuck at a dead end.

However, like many genealogists, I found that the belief’s that you grow up with are just as important as the truth.  Just because I can’t prove that we are Irish just yet, does not mean that we can’t love the Irish and learn about the Irish and their struggles.  I also discovered that my paternal grandmother was not Irish at all!  She was German, VERY German!  However, when she married my grandfather, she took his name heart and soul and became just as Irish.  I’m still searching, as all genealogists do.  The searching will never end.

So on this Saint Patrick’s Day, I fondly remember my roots and hope that you do too!