A reader asked my opinion the other day about some problems with her genealogy. She started her family research many years ago but lost her focus and ended up falling away from it for many years. She is now ready to start over. It got me thinking if I were to start my genealogy research over again, if I could turn back the clock, what advice would I give myself.
• Talk to some experienced genealogists. Your learning curve will be much shorter if you are under the guidance of an experienced mentor. You'll receive a wealth of good advice and information. Experienced genealogists can be found through your local genealogy societies, online through blogs and at conferences. Don't be afraid to ask questions, genealogists are a very sharing group.
• Join an Association of Genealogists. For much the same reasons as above, these groups are great for keeping you abreast of information whether you join a local group or a national group; they can be great resource of knowledge.
• Create a plan. It doesn't have to be elaborate. However, having some goals and a research plan will keep you on course and keep you from jumping all over the place.
• Always remember Primary Sources. Don’t get caught up in the excitement of having thousands of names in your trees without any citations or sources. Names hold little weight; genealogy is about uncovering your ancestor’s stories. True stories that reveal themselves through credible sources.
• Implement an organizational system and be diligent about it. It is very easy to get lazy, say you’ll do that later and before you know it, you can’t find anything. For me being organized is every bit as important as the work. Your time and efforts are wasted if important information is lost due to your poor organization.
• Don't waste money on multiple databases and software programs. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to research your family history. There are plenty of companies looking to sell you subscriptions to their programs. Be smart about choosing your databases or buying software programs. There are plenty of options. Do Your Homework before committing.
• Attend a Conference. There really is a lot to learn from genealogy conferences. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to attend my first conference.
• Have a life. Make sure that you build in down time. It actually is a good practice to step away from your research, (but not too long), just enough time to recharge your battery. Keep a balanced life. Don’t spend all your time chasing the past and forget about living in the present.
What's the best advice you would give a beginner family historian?