23 March 2012

A Must Read Book for 'Newbies'

On St. Patrick's Day I pulled out the WDYTYA? companion book again. Just wanted to read the bit in Chapter 8 about Megan's search for President Obama's Irish ancestors. I decided to read it again from the beginning since I hadn't pulled it out in a while. Is there a way to make this book required reading for anyone who wants to start working on their family tree? In just the first twenty pages she covers a majority of the pitfalls for newbies. In one section of Chapter 1, "Don't Believe Everything You Read or Hear," she succinctly debunks these common genealogical myths:
1. Our name was changed at Ellis Island.
2. We're descended from a Cherokee princess.
3. Three brothers came to America. One went north, one went south, and one went west.
4. Here's your coat of arms!
After the jump is an excerpt from Chapter 1 that I think is spot on for this blog ;-)
Seriously, go get a copy.

ⓑⓐⓡⓚⓘⓝⓖ  ⓤⓟ  ⓣⓗⓔ  ⓦⓡⓞⓝⓖ  ⓣⓡⓔⓔ

Who Do You Think You Are?: A Companion to the NBC Series 
by Megan Smolenyak-Smolenyak
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Preparing for Your Ancestor Hunt


     I don’t blame you if the thought running through your head at the moment is, "Well, duh!” It probably sounds mind-blowingly obvious to suggest that you start with what you know, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t.
     I think it’s fair to say that we are a nation of impatient people. With so many opportunities for instant gratification, we’ve become accustomed to fast results and expect our roots served up the same way. So it’s only natural that most of us embarking on a genealogical quest will impulsively grab a laptop and do a vanity search. Google your name and – poof! – instant roots, right? Another favorite point of entry is that famous ancestor you’ve heard mention of. Your name is Boone, so you must be related to Daniel Boone. Find his family tree online, and all you have to do is locate yourself in one of the branches. Centuries of family history will unfold before you in minutes.
     You might think I’m exaggerating, but any librarian can regale you with tales of patrons who called wanting to pick up their family history at the reference desk or even the drive-through window (no kidding). If you’re venturing into the world of genealogy now, you’ll be pleased to hear that you were smart to wait. While I’m glad to have started in the old-school, paper-and-pencil, snail-mail days, you will definitely be able to find out much more about your family considerably faster that I did. What took me months might take you a couple of hours, but we’re not quite at the just-add-water stage.
     The danger of jumping in with no preparation is the risk of, well, barking up the wrong tree. It is astonishingly easy to assume your way into someone else’s family tree (say, by confusing two people who happened to have the same name), only to discover some time later that you have no connection whatsoever to that family. Of perhaps you’ll correctly latch yourself on to someone else’s pedigree – after all, that was definitely your grandmother in there – only to learn later that the tree is riddled with errors elsewhere.
     The tree you found online may be based on a century-old book found in the finest libraries, but these weighty tomes don’t come with warning labels that many doing genealogy (or having it done for them) in the old days were doing so to prove illustrious roots, and there were Victorian rip-off artists only too happy to provide them. Want to wind up a hard-core genealogist? Just mention the name Gustav Anjou and watch the reaction. Genealogies he dreamed up before you existed continue to fool people and pollute family trees today, and there are more victims of this ancestral mischief out there than you’d think. Bouncing around the country on book and speaking tours, I’ve sporadically encountered folks who have assured me they don’t need any help because they already have their roots traced back to Adam and Eve. I don’t have the heart to burst their bubble, but I’ll say this much. If you, as I have, find a tree online that starts with Adam and Eve and shows one of their children being born in British Columbia, Canada, a little skepticism wouldn’t be out of order.

Megan's latest book is Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing.

NEXT POST: A Female Bigamist?


  1. I kinda laugh when I hear about those myths, yet I have met many people who truly believe such things of their past. I sure some may be true... :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. Glad I found this post. I going to look for this book!

  3. Hi I am enjoying your blog, but I have a general question. I don't want to just blindly add ancestors, but I also don't want to lose a lead. When I get information on tree ancestors, how can I indicate that I don't have a citation for them? I was thinking of just putting a question mark after their name, but I wasn't sure if that would mess up getting links to possible hit.

    1. A question mark will affect your searches. In a search a ? can be used to replace a letter, it works most effectively if you make it an exact search but it could mess up a search so I'd try to find another alternative. In case you're wondering the only other search option like that is * While a ? replaces one letter a * replaces multiple letters. My last name is Gillespie and I've found at least a dozen different spellings. I can narrow those down to 2 searches, G*pie and G*py.
      Okay, back to your question...here's a couple of options:
      1) add a fact: One option is to add a "custom event" that you can assign a title to and then add a note in the description field. It can be just for you or for others.
      2) add a photo: If you've read any of the photo posts this answer may surprise you but I actually don't mind them when there is purpose AND if it's only uploaded once. You can find some ideas here: http://buwt.blogspot.com/2012/11/why-photo-edition.html You can upload it once, give a description of why you loaded it (to let others know or to remind yourself) and attach multiple people to it. When you find yourself in the mood to tackle one of your problem profiles you can go to the photo and pick one of the attached people.

      Do whatever works best for you and don't worry about other people. Clickophiles won't pay attention even if you add a big flashing warning sign and those doing actual research will take note even if you only add two words somewhere on the profile ;-)
      Thanks for reading my blog!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Katney! Forgot I had changed that setting a few days ago :-P

  5. Yes I can trace my family back too Adam and Eve, when I take a little to LDS.