It’s Back to School and over at Little Bytes of Life Elizabeth O’Neal is asking what we think our students need to learn. Elizabeth states that our “students” could be:
- genealogists of any level, from brand-new to advanced,
- children and/or teens,
- genealogy bloggers,
- disinterested family members who roll their eyes when you talk about genealogy
- even ourselves, sharing something we wish we had known before we started
I thought about some things that I have noticed lately and some things I wish I had known when I started out and wondered if perhaps the new genealogists among us might gain something from my list of things NOT to expect when starting out:
My Top Five List of Things NOT To Expect When Starting Your Genealogy
- Do not expect to trace your ancestry back to Adam and Eve. Yes, there really are people who will tell you that they have traced their tree back to biblical times and that you can do the same. And no, it is not possible as it simply cannot be documented.
- Do not expect that online trees will offer sourced and proven research that you can easily incorporate into your tree. And never ever simply download a GEDCOM of an online tree into your family history software. My advice for those wanting to use information from online trees is to be cautious. More especially when the tree offers no documented sources. Use the information you find to point you in a direction for further research and adopt the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) in moving forward. What is the GPS? It is the process used by genealogists to determine what the minimums are for our work to be considered credible. More information on the GPS can be found on the site for the Board for Certification of Genealogists and in the highly recommended book by Christine Rose titled ‘Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case’. The GPS is definitely something I wish I had been schooled in before I started!
- Do not expect that every record you need will be found online. Although there have been huge advances in digitizing and indexing record collections, we are nowhere close to having it all available online. If you are serious about your research you will, at some stage, need to reach out to an archive or other repository without online holdings, and sometimes you may need to make a trip to a local county courthouse yourself. Lori Samuelson of Genealogy At Heart wrote an excellent post addressing this topic which I think is well worth reading.
- Do not expect that you will be able to access every record you need for free. I am constantly amazed at those who complain about having to pay to view a record. It would be wonderful if every record we needed was freely available but that is not the case and I suspect will never be the case. FamilySearch.org provides all its’ collections for free and there are many free collections on other sites. However, there will come a time where you will need to pay to access a record. Companies spend money finding and collecting records, digitizing and indexing them, and creating databases and websites. They have employees to pay and other costs to recover and of course, a profit to make. Why should we expect that they make their collections available to us for free?
- And perhaps the hardest for those of us passionate about our research…. do not expect that every family member will share your enthusiasm for what you’ve found. Many of them might think you are kind of strange for spending so much time and effort ‘looking for dead people’. Keep researching anyway!
So what CAN you expect as you start out? You can expect to find a large and interesting genealogy community full of wonderful people ready to help with any questions you may have. You should expect to continue to learn and should take advantage of the many webinars, blogs, newsletters, conferences and institutes, genealogical and historical societies and the many experienced genealogists out there willing to share their knowledge. And in my opinion, you should expect to give back in some manner … index some records (find out more here), volunteer your time and get involved in your local genealogical society, take photos of a gravestone for someone or offer look up services at your local courthouse, blog about your research so that others also researching those lines may find you and collaborate with you.
There are some things to NOT expect when you are starting out but there are a lot of wonderful things you CAN expect as you get started on the journey to finding your ancestors.