Sunday, February 27, 2011

Walking In Their Shoes

I am so pleased to see how much the show Who Do You Think You Are? has spurred interest in so many people to begin, or continue, their quest to find their roots. The show makes it look so simple doesn’t it? Just plug information into and magically YOUR family appears!  In reality it isn’t that easy.  There are many features about that I like but please, please, please ( I can not stress this enough) don’t believe everything you read on there or other sites, such as World ,,, or Family  and others, as being the gospel truth! Records on those sites are all listed by people just like you and me, amateurs putting together their family history. Those sites do not go through and check each and every piece of information that is submitted to them. We are all prone to making mistakes. Now am I saying not to use these resources?  No, by all means  use them as reference material , just like you would anything else that you might find elsewhere on the internet. But then research and document it with proof to be sure it is indeed correct material to go with your own family genealogy.
Be sure that you start with what you know about your own family and work backwards.  I so hope that people are taking time to truly document their findings and making sure that they are indeed finding their own family! Now with that being said, I am going to tell you that sometimes rules are meant to be broken. I know, big contradiction to what I just told you isn’t it? Perhaps you know that your great great great grandfather was someone famous…. lets say like Daniel Boone, Walt Disney or Frank Lloyd Wright, these are all hypothetical by the way, but what if you know there is a connection, your family has told you that you are related. You have several generations in-between where you have a big gap. Since they are famous, you could take their descendant chart and work from them back through to where it meets up with yours. Just be sure that you are indeed correct by getting supporting documentation! Maybe you are not a direct descendant but a cousin several times removed, or a cousin by marriage, etc.

Let me give an example by telling you about what has happened in some lines of searching for my own family history. I have come across mix-ups in posting entire generations as being part of a family group when they were not part of the family at all, but because so many of the “names matched up” someone along the way decided they were indeed all of the same family. If they had really and truly paid attention and done their research, they would have found yes, indeed members of the families all seemed to name their children identical, but they were from two separate areas of New Jersey and Connecticut! I have one ancestor where we truly are not 100% about his wife or wives, but now there are several listings for him on and World Connect with each wife entered separately as his spouse!

I have come across women married to a man who were listed as his child and not his wife! Because someone didn’t take time to truly research and document, now it is out there on the internet and others continue to copy this information as if it is true when in reality it is not.

Because a father and a son both have the same name, and there is no JR after the son’s name, someone took it upon themselves to enter a tree where they combined them as one person, where as if they had paid attention to where they lived, who their wives were and their dates of birth and death, the error would never have been made. Now those of us who are true direct descendants of these men, have to go in and try and straighten out this mess so that records at D.A.R., S.A.R. and other organizations  can be corrected and taken off of dispute! 

So in your zest to locate your family’s ancestors and truly enjoy the adventure of finding them, be sure to:

 1. Document your sources be it birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, copies of land documents or gravestones (by the way I’ve seen some of these be spelled wrong and have incorrect dates) or if you are using family owned documents. Leave a good paper trail so others can follow in your footsteps and carry on when you have passed away.

2. Take time to find some books about the era and area where your ancestors lived and read up on what was going on in that time frame. Pay attention to the nationalities of the people who lived in the area, their religious affiliations, were there epidemics of illness which would wipe out families or communities. Were there Indian disputes which would cause people to migrate out of the area. Was there major crop failures, or perhaps they were in the middle of a battlefield area and had to evacuate.

3. Find maps from that time period, boundaries of cities, counties, states, and even countries have not always been as they are today. How do I know? Well, I found out the hard way that there were parts of Switzerland that were actually part of Germany at one point in time!

4. I know that there were census reports back to the 1790 period but be careful trying to understand them. The handwriting is often horrible, there are various spellings of names and instead of listing all the members of a family by name they are recorded by an age bracket. Also remember back in that time, there was a different calendar, many still used the Julian calendar, compared to the Gregorian calendar that we use today, which is going to throw your dates off.

5.Collaborate with other family members to try and find your ancestors. Reach out in your attempts to locate other branches of your family because they might have information to share that you don’t have and between all your efforts you can put together the puzzle of your family. Look for the ancestors of siblings of your relatives. They may be looking for you as well. For instance, go post on message boards, join Surname or Ethnic groups over at Yahoo and get acquainted. There is also a group called Brickwall at Yahoo that has some wonderfully talented researchers who are willing to give you assistance. If you are of Native American Indian descent, join one of the tribal groups on yahoo. The Cherokee board is very helpful, even if you are not Cherokee.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I don’t care if it is from another researcher on a website, maybe they don’t even happen to have the same surnames in their family but would be able to give you some good tips and advice. Ask a librarian at your local library because many of them are knowledgeable. Go to the local genealogy library in your town because many of the people who work in there have been doing research for years and years. Also you are always welcome at the local LDS Church library in your city. They certainly are not as large as the facility in Salt Lake City, but they do have resources there as well as they are able to order films from other locations for you to view. Again, the people who work in this library are also very knowledgeable.

7. “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well” and doing it correctly. Even if you do publish information on any site or even on your own site and you have it open for public viewing, please be sure to let others know that “to the best of your ability you know this information is correct, but we are all open to human error, if you see something that you dispute, please contact me.”   Or write something to that effect. Also if you do not include information about where your sources of information have been gathered from, indicate you do have documents on file if they are interested or if you don’t have any, advise that also.

8. Now get started. Gather together some pedigree charts or get a genealogy program installed on your computer (there are some good ones that you pay for as well as some free ones), get a notebook or set up a section on your computer so that you can be ready to add some great stories about the different people in your family so that your ancestors come to life for others. There is nothing exciting about just seeing a family tree with lots of names and dates written down!

Happy Hunting!

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