‘I can trace my tree back to Adam and Eve’ and other things NOT to expect when starting your genealogy


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

  1. 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. totetude-family-tree-one-kid-md
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.


From Cairo with Love

As part of this month’s theme for the Genealogy Blog Party ‘The Strong Will Survive!’ I am highlighting my Grandfather as someone I believe was strong both emotionally and physically.  He survived not only a war but a situation at home, happening at the same time, which was incredibly emotionally stressful for him.  Read on and see why I think he qualifies as a man of great courage and integrity.

I’ve always been fascinated with this postcard that my Grandfather, Harold James Davis, had made in Cairo, Egypt.  He never sent it (there is no writing on the back) but from what we can gather brought it home to South Africa to give to his only daughter.


Harold James Davis (1908-1967) was stationed in Egypt with the 1st Hygiene Company of the South African Medical Corp from November 1941 to April 1944 and transferred to the United Defense Force Admin HQ in Cairo, Egypt from March 1944 to November 1944.  Obviously he carried with him a photograph of the young daughter he had left behind in South Africa, enabling him to have the postcard made.

It was during this time serving in Egypt that my grandfather would have heard that his wife, my grandmother, Hazel Jane Keown, had abandoned their young daughter.  Perhaps tired of life as the wife of a military man (Harold had been an Army man since July of 1929) Hazel Jane Keown had left their 4-year-old daughter and disappeared.    Harold returned to South Africa in November 1944 where he sued for divorce and sole custody of his daughter.

HaroldJamesDavis1908_photo military 2
Harold James Davis (1908-1967) taken in Cairo, Egypt between 1941 and 1944.

It must have been difficult to be in the middle of a war and to be worrying about his young daughter.  I like to think that the photograph of her he carried, and the postcard he had made, helped him to feel closer to her.

Harold James Davis and his baby girl.