I’m participating in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors Challenge this year. We are at Week # 49 and the writing prompt is OOPS. Oh, my gosh. Where do I start?!
Here’s a list of mistakes I made when starting to research my family history. I’m sure that I’m not alone in some of these oopsies.
# 1 – Without a doubt, I think that the biggest mistake and # 1 on my list of mistakes that I have made while researching my family history is in neglecting to properly record or cite my sources. I would find myself just so eager to collect names and dates that the only goal seemingly in mind was to see how far back in time I could trace my family’s lineage. In the beginning, I would accept information or hints from someone else’s online tree without even checking their sources. Gulp. It’s happened more than I care to admit, that I have been over eager and gone down a rabbit hole of researching someone whom I thought was a relative, only to discover that I was wrong. Big oops. Then comes the deleting of information. This is not an easy task.
So, my advice would be to document where you find your information when you first find it.
“If you didn’t write it, you must cite it.” – Me. To my younger self.
# 2 – Not being organized. This mistake that I made kind of goes hand in hand with not citing sources properly. I would find myself jumping around from one hint to another, one person to another, getting easily sidetracked, not being focused, and not being organized in my research is messy and well, just plain unproductive. It’s so important to start with a clear research plan. Decide what the information is that you are hoping to acquire and stay focused. Writing down a list of specific goals would also be helpful.
# 3 – The third oops on my list of mistakes was being lured into chasing down all of those little shaky green leaves – they get us every time, don’t they? Ooooo!! A new hint!! Distracted again. Try your best to stay focused. It’s also important to remember that just because someone else’s tree has information on it, does not make it true. That’s something I’ve learned along the way. Sure, have a look at that person’s tree and the information that they have, but check their sources!!
I mean seriously?! 8,024 hints?! Who wouldn’t get distracted for days and days and days…
# 4 – This lesson I learned a while back, and it was to not move so quickly through a document. This was the case with my paternal Great-Grandfather’s pension record with the Metropolitan Police. I was so excited to find this record and attach it to my tree, that I only quickly skimmed the document and moved on to see what else I could find. It wasn’t until quite some time later that I thought of turning the page over (online) and reading what else there was to see. Slow down. Read. Every. Word. Below are the front and back page of the record. You can read about my faux pas on my previous post titled Finding Hidden Records on Ancestry.
# 5 – This oops is a big one that certainly will cost me a lot of time and a headache that may last for days on end. This is a mistake I made when I first created an Ancestry account, and here it is. I created a different and separate tree for every branch of our family. I realize now that this really wasn’t the best idea. It has also left me in a position of having way too many individual family trees! I have one for my Dad’s family, one for my Mom’s adopted family, one for her birth family, one for my husband’s mother’s family, another for my husband’s father’s side of the family…you get the picture!
One gigantic tree that encompasses all of us would have been a much better idea for many reasons. First, so that I could attach all of our DNA tests to that one common tree. AncestryDNA tests can be linked to only one tree at a time. So I find myself having to go into the Settings and change which tree the DNA results are linked to in order to link the DNA from one tree to another. So how do I fix this? How do I go about compiling all these years of research into one tree? Starting over may be my only choice at this point. This would be a huge undertaking. I suppose it would be a good way of ensuring that I only record information that I know to be true. If and when I do start my tree
s over, I would need to commit to not falling down that rabbit hole by chasing those little shaky green leaves, eliminating all the duplicate information spread over countless trees, and properly recording my sources. In other words not to make the same mistakes twice.
# 6 – Not backing up my research. Most of the research that I have compiled over the years is online. Mostly on Ancestry.ca and some on FamilySearch.org. I think it would be wise to have backups of the GED files for these trees as well as physical copies of important data. I do have physical family history 3 ring binders that I have created for each of the surnames that I am researching. When I remember and that’s a big when, I print out information that I have found (with sources) and put them into the physical binder. Ideally I would like to do this with every ancestor in my family tree. Printing out all of the information that I know and entering it all into a family tree/chart would be helpful to let me know where I need to be focussing my research.
Well, there you have it. An embarrassingly long list of the mistakes / oops that I have made over the years. Some I am still dealing with today. What mistakes have you made? Or more importantly, how have you rectified them?