Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Correcting Past Genealogical Mistakes

In addition to citation issues, basic organization can be a problem. When I first started my family history search, the Internet was still very new and fluid. Most critically, I was still very new at researching and could not often correctly evaluate the information I found. Therefore, I tended to keep everything and add people to my tree without proper documentation. One very positive result that will come from completing a genealogy do-over is that it will require me to verify each person with a very high level of certainty. I want my family tree to be historically accurate as possible. I need to be prepared to remove people from my tree until I have more proof.

One of the earliest mistakes I made was not investing in a good genealogy software program. I was very paper-focused in the early days, and, for a long time, this was not a problem. However, after I got back about three generations, I realized I needed one. Fortunately for us, most genealogy programs have a free version or, at least, a free trial version. Free versions allowed me to get a good idea of how each program worked. I ultimately decided on Legacy Family Tree Software. For several years I used the free version, and I think I could probably continue to do so for most tasks as the free version is that good. Recently, I upgraded to the paid version, and it has really been an excellent investment. It is so easy to use! I love being able to search the other major sites (like Ancestry, or GenealogyBank, or Find-a-Grave, for example) from within the software and directly incorporate the results, which helps keep the number of tabs I have open to a minimum. I have seen pictures of other genealogists who have an extra monitor so they can be looking at a database while typing on their primary computer. To me, that is intense. I don’t like having too many tabs open!

Another fundamental error I made early on was dividing my family history files into four separate sections….one for each grandparents’ line. As it turns out, this didn’t seem to help make the organization of the records better. Keeping track of four smaller files is more complicated than keeping track of just one big file. Who knew?  This mistake, however, has much more significant ramifications than just contributing to poor file organization. I would have missed out on seeing valuable patterns, similarities, and connections between the two branches of my family tree. Interestingly, the two branches of my family lived relatively close together for almost 100 years before my parents met. This pattern might not have been as apparent if the files were separate. One large file also streamlines research time because, with separate ones, I would often return to the same databases as with an earlier file. If I had known I would need that database for this file too, I would have search all the names at once and saved time. In theory, anyway!

I have been thinking about past research practices and ways to improve. I have addressed some of the mistakes I have made, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are entirely fixable. There is one genealogy mistake that I cannot fix and, therefore, is the one I regret the most. I did not interview many of my elderly relatives when I had the chance. How many family stories did they take with them? I hate to think about it too much. I am going to correct this in 2020 for sure! In preparing to conduct my family history interviews, I found Family Tree Magazine’s 13 Tips for Oral History Interviewing very helpful, and I plan on incorporating their good advice. I feel a great urgency to do this. Census records will still be there tomorrow. Grandma won’t.

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