Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Beginning the Journey: What I wish I had known

I recently had a cousin call me up and ask me to help them get started with their genealogy. Well, as a genealogist, there is pretty much nothing better than that! Instead of giving him a list of links and tips in an e-mail, I thought I'd post a few things here so that others can send THEIR anxious genealogical beginners here, too!

In genealogy we always start with what we know and work backwards through time. The best way to do this is with old fashioned paper pedigree charts and family group sheets. There are many other fun and helpful worksheets for doing genealogy, and you can find most of them here at Cyndi's List.

Here are the Top 5 Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started:
1.)Not everything exists online. In fact some records don't exist at all. You may think they should be there, want them to be there. Maybe at one time they even were there, but the fact is many records were destroyed and some, even if it was legally required, simply were never created.

2.)DO NOT merge your tree with an online tree. EVER! Feel free to cite that tree as a source of possible information. But only use these as hints and never in bulk. Just don't do it.

3.)Cite EVERY source! I will probably be flogged for saying this, but even if you don't cite them "correctly" just jot down enough info that if in 3 years you need to find it again you can. (Example: familysearch.org 1940 federal census for Avoyelles Parish, LA "Robert Chenevert" [web address]) Is that a correct citation? Not even close. There's no punctuation, and I'm missing some information, like when I found it or when it was published. BUT if I needed to find it again I could probably do that without much trouble. THIS IS INVALUABLE to both you AND people you share your information with!!! Here is a great beginners article on citing your sources.

4.)Interview living relatives. Genealogists are known for being a bit morbid, but seriously, you never know how long you will have to ask your loved ones important questions about themselves and your family. I bet if you ask any genealogist who's been doing this for more than a few years, every one of them has a story of regret for what they didn't ask a loved one who is no longer with them. Don't neglect your living relatives for dead ones.

5.)Publish and back up your findings. This point is two-fold. Backing up your information, whether digital or physical, is crucial to any number of fields. It's no less important in genealogy. If you don't have your info in at least 3 places then rethink your system. Secondly, your work will never be "finished" so share your stories NOW. You don't have to publish and donate your work to a library, although companies like Blurb are making that much easier to do. Memorial pages on sites like fold3.com, personal blogs, printing out a few charts and a short written summary to mail to cousins, or even syncing your tree with an online searchable tree like Family Search or Ancestry will get your information out there where it can be helping other people and working for you by fishing for new cousins!

For a little extra info, or for people who are audio/visual learners, check out these FREE webinars! (Also, many subscription sites and paid software programs offer free how-to videos, usually centered around their products.)FamilySearch Beginning Genealogy and If I’d Only Known! Beginner Genealogy Mistakes Videos

Well there you have it! A quick and dirty beginner's guide to starting your own genealogy journey! Happy hunting!


  1. Your numbers 3 through 5 are the same for me...online wasn't an option when I started and I'm kinda glad about that. But oh, several people died I didn't get around to talking to ...and I have several pieces of paper from who knows where...LOL

    1. I am currently struggling with contacting an older relative who doesn't know me to talk to about our family's history. Wish me luck!

      P.S. Does MSU alumni mean McNeese in Louisiana? If not which University is it?