So what is Genealogy?
It is the study or investigation of ancestry and family histories.
A genealogist will make a record or table of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or ancestors – a family tree.
Genealogy can be a very fascinating and addictive hobby. Each step that you take in researching your family’s history can lead you to new ancestors, delightful stories and a real sense of your place in history.
If you are new to genealogy research, however, there are some key mistakes that you will want to avoid in order to make your search a successful and pleasant experience.
Talk to your living relatives while you can….
“If only…” is a lament that you often hear from genealogists who regret having put off visits to elderly relatives who have since passed away. Family members are a genealogist’s most important source, and often the only source for the stories which bring family history to life. Visiting with and talking to your relatives should be at the top of every genealogists “to-do” list. See if they have photographs and documents that you can photcopy for use in your research.
Don’t Trust Everything You See in Print!
Just because a family genealogy or a record transcription has been written down or published does not necessarily mean that it is correct. It is important as a family historian not to make assumptions about the quality of the research done by others. Everyone from professional genealogists to your own family members can make mistakes! Most printed family histories are likely to have at least a minor error or two, if not more.
Books which contain transcriptions (cemetery, census, will, court, etc.) may be missing vital information, may have transcription errors, or may even make invalid assumptions (e.g. stating that John is the son of William because he is the beneficiary of his will, when this relationship was not explicitly stated).
If It’s On The Internet, It Must Be True!
The Internet is a valuable genealogy research tool, but Internet data, like other published sources, should be approached with considerable skepticism.
Even if the information you find seems the perfect match to your own family tree, don’t take anything for granted. Even digitized records, which are generally fairly accurate, are at least one generation removed from the original. The trick is to learn how to separate the good online data from the bad, by verifying and corroborating every detail for yourself. Contact the researcher, if possible, and retrace their research steps. Visit the cemetery or look at the Parish Records and see for yourself.