01 June 2012

The 10 Commandments of Genealogy

1. Thou shalt not mindlessly copy other trees. 
If you've read this blog before it should be no surprise that this is first ;-)

2. Thou shalt read records before attaching them to your tree.
Every person with the same name is not the same person. Also, all people with the same surname are not related. You will read ALL the information and use your powers of deductive reasoning.

3. Thou shalt cite your sources.
Just as with a science experiment, someone else should be able to re-create your results using your research as a road map. Unlike science, there are exceptions, i.e. personal interviews and personal memories. Even if you don't cite your sources according to Evidence Explained you should have enough detail so that you or anyone else can find the source of the information again.

4. Thou shalt back up your tree(s), photos and documents often.
ALL forms of storage are subject to the unexpected. You should back up often and in different ways. Paper, flash drives, CDs, internal hard drive, external hard drive, online... Pick at least two different ways to store your items and don't keep those two forms in the same place. If you want your research to live past you be sure to keep the necessary info (usernames and passwords) with your important papers (will, medical directive, etc.). This is especially important if your tree is private on Ancestry.com. If you don't leave your password to someone your research dies with you.

5. Thou shalt not use the term "brick wall" lightly.
When I see someone say they have a "brick wall" because they've been looking for something for a week or a month I just roll my eyes. A true brick wall takes years to build. Don't make up artificial ones.

6. Thou shalt learn to put your family in historical context.
Local history, national history, world history... It's all important and had an impact on your ancestors' lives. Did a national or world event give your ancestors the impetus to immigrate? The year your ancestors immigrated, how long would the trip have taken? Learn about their daily lives too. How much of an effort did it take to hitch up the horses to go to church on Sunday morning? What modes of travel were available during their lifetime? What did making a meal entail? You'll get a better understanding of the world they lived in. It will also keep you from attaching two 1860 censuses enumerated in the same week to the same family when one is in Virginia and the other in California.

7. Thou shalt not limit yourself to Ancestry.com.
Ancestry.com is a wonderful site. I'm a subscriber and don't know what I would do without it. Having said that, it doesn't have everything, never will. For genealogists Ancestry.com is one tool in our toolbox. For a carpenter a hammer can do a lot but if that carpenter uses only a hammer he won't get much accomplished.

8. Thou shalt not limit yourself to internet research.
Read the carpentry analogy in #7 again :-) It's amazing what we can get done while on the couch in our pajamas but only a small percentage of genealogical data is available online.
In 2007, the New York Times looked into the sudden fervor for digitizing everything under the sun - a trend I am wholeheartedly in support of - and reached an interesting conclusion. At the current rate of digitization, it would take approximately 1,800 years to capture the contents of the National Archives text-based collections. Mind you, this doesn't include all the non-text items - photos, films, and so forth - and speaks solely of the National Archives, so it doesn't address any other repository.
- Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak in her book Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing
9. Thou shalt make friends with librarians and workers/volunteers in courthouses, historical societies, churches, etc..
Your goal is to be memorable...in a good way. You may not be able to make a trip back to that county courthouse but if you made a good impression on your visit it will be easier to get more records/copies with just a phone call. Also, a small donation to a library, historical society, church, etc. that you visit couldn't hurt.

10. Thou shalt pay it forward. 
Many of the records we find are available online for free. Someone indexed the record you found and you can help someone else find their ancestor. A few options:
* At Family Search you can help index records from all over the world.
* Find a local cemetery to photograph for Find a Grave.
* Key records for Ancestry.com's World Archives Project. The indexes created through WAP are free to everyone.
There may be projects available in counties or states where your ancestors lived. If you have a favorite genealogy project to volunteer for please comment and let everyone know about it.

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  1. You got it right!! Happy searching and blogging!

    1. Findagrave is my current favorite -- as is locating abandoned cemeteries, cleaning them up if possible, and documenting the stones.

  2. I know someone who did their 'entire' family tree in a matter of weeks using geni.com......in fact he insists he is now related to Robert the Bruce and a DIRECT descendant of Anne Boleyn. He has done such intensive research that he now wants to get in touch with the chief of Clan Robertson because he believes he has more of a right to be the chief. Believe me, I attempted to correct him but he insists tht one can complete their family tree, rapidly, completely online and did not even utilize Ancestry. Not even for the census records. I will de-friend him pretty soon if only because he aggravates the stuffing out of me with his know it all attitude...lol

    1. *head/desk*head/desk*head/desk*head/desk*
      Wait, can you ask him for a link to his tree before you de-friend him? I'm sure it's full of potential blog posts. [evil laugh]

    2. My family has searched for years to get my Stewart line out of NY state and to Europe. Magically, someone on Ancestry.com has linked us to Scotland and into royalty! With no sources, just guesses. Wish I had the magic wand!!!

    3. Afterthought! I don't believe Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth I ever had any children, so how can you be a direct descendant?

    4. I have been working on mine for the last 15 years. I would like to have it done before I die & give a copy to each of my children.

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  4. Correction:

    Thanks. Nothing is more frustrating than to see info from your tree plus the ancestors photos attached to a person of the same name who also lived in the area and came from Ireland.

    Especially when they both married different woman and you have marriage records and baptism records attached to your tree as source proof and you can find no proof attaching that person to your family. I'm not saying that somehow through the generations they may not be be distant cousins, but without proof, it just isn't right.

    Even worse was when my tree/family was integrated with theirs and placed on Family Search as a submission.

    Or the relation you encounter who asks to share, receives your info and your Gr Aunt's family story and won't share the info they have based on the family story told them. It sucks even more when they are descendants from the first born and your ancestor was the black sheep who didn't know much about the lineage. So their tree including your relations goes back to life in Ireland and is private whereas your tree only begins when your ancestor arrived in Canada.

  5. Family Search Centers are also great, they were very helpful in Tokyo last January, no cost at all. Even did some copying for me while I was out of country (the old in & out stopover). That said I had to negotiate with regular LDS folk before getting to Tokyo and my main contact spoke of their ancestry back to King Tut ...... as my eyes rolled. All the best in 2015.

  6. Had a discussion about Commandment #4 today at a genealogy expo. The woman there said that I shouldn't save any paper documentation as my house could burn down and destroy my evidence. She keeps everything on flashdrive as she thinks Ancestry and FamilySearch could be hacked. Liked the response you gave in #4. Keep 2 sources of backup.