So, like nearly every genealogist out there, I jumped into the pool of genealogy and made a ton of newbie mistakes. I didn’t bother reading books to learn about citing your sources, how to keep your paperwork organized, or even about the census!
No…instead of doing my homework, I jumped right in.
When I began spending time on Ancestry.com, I found a family tree that someone had created and shared with my ancestry going back to the 1600s…Great I thought to myself. Now I just have to enter it into this PAF program and TA-DA I’m done!!
Well, I was so focused on getting the information into PAF, printing out the fancy charts, and then dragging it all along with me to show off to my family – Oh look everyone, look at the wonderful job I did. What I missed during my excitement was that there were no sources (or horribly cited sources), the dates didn’t make sense (There is no way she was married and had a child at 12), and I honestly think some people must of been made up.
So – once you make this mistake – How in the world do you fix it?
Well, here are some helpful hints:
- Create a brand new tree in your genealogy program (Most programs will allow you to do this, even the free ones). Print a basic pedigree chart from your old tree, with yourself (or you’re kids) as the first person, working its way back.
- Now, go through the census abstracts, photocopies from books, print-outs of other trees, etc and double check to make sure that the source is credible (For example, a random person’s family tree with no email or address to contact them and no sources is not credible…try contacting the person, they might be willing to give you their sources or a step in the right direction). If you find that something is not credible, but you think the information might still be correct, then jot it down so you can try to find a credible source that supports it.
- Now, double check that you have the correct information down for all of your credible sources. Go to the actual source and view it with your own eyes again…make sure that what you have matches it. Be sure to write down any questions or comments that come to mind. You’ll probably want those questions later for reference.
- Now – cite your sources correctly – and do it for everything! (For example: Censuses give you a ton of information – like where the person was born and the person’s occupation. Make sure you list that source for the occupation, the census, and where/when the person was born). In order to know how to do this, you are going to need to do your homework and learn how to do this correctly. Remember, without your sources, your information is not credible…you want to make sure that other people can check your work.
- Finally, the fun part – entering it all into your brand new tree….it is kind of like having a fresh start.
- Next, you are going to want to print your pedigree/family group sheets so that you can figure out where you are lacking information. Then you can start researching credible sources to find the missing information.
- And lastly – Learn from your mistakes…
Remember, mistakes happen…and they are okay as long as you learn from them.
Genealogy is not a one stop complete. There are always more ancestors to find, more cousins to contact, and more information to discover.
*Note*: Sometimes uncredible sources can seem very credible (like Ancestry’s OneWorldTree). A good rule of thumb is that the information should be recorded around the time it occured (Birth certificates are more credible than a census record), there should be as little of the “telephone effect” (Indexes are a perfect example of how we can misread, mistype, misinterpret things from the original document…Is that a B or a P?), and not just anyone should be able to contribute to it (For example, FamilySearch allows anyone to submit their tree – which seems like a good idea, until you’ve realized you’ve submitted wrong information). The best thing to do is to communicate with other genealogists and to do your homework so that way you make a few mistakes as possible.
Good luck everyone!