If I had to start again, this is what I would do. | The Armchair Genealogist
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If I had to start again, this is what I would do.

This winter, I’ve been teaching a serious of family history classes at my local archives. The audience is all beginners with less than six months of experience in searching their ancestors. There is a great deal of information to impart on them and I take my role as their teacher very seriously. I wanted to give them the best possible advice. They are inspiration behind today's post.

In preparing for the classes, I took a long look at my research and genealogy journey to decide what I wish someone had told me back in the beginning. I asked myself, if I had to start again, what would I do differently.

If I had to start again,

I would create an organization system, from the start and be consistent.

We are so excited for the hunt for our ancestors, we don’t take the time to save our discoveries adequately in the beginning. By the time we realize we need a sound organization system, we are knee deep in genealogy stuff. Creating an organization system in both paper and digital is critical. Create a workflow, and cheat sheets for your file systems and file naming systems. File your documents as you find them. That catch-all folder, whether, it's for paper or digital, it is just an excuse to put off what you should be doing immediately, keeping your research in an organized fashion. Create systems, make cheat sheets, be consistent.

I would interview family members, immediately.

I asked this question of the 25 members of the class, how many had interviewed their family members. Not one person raised their hand. Do not dismiss what others may know about your family history. At some point, you will regret not carrying out those interviews. I did get to those interviews, and what I learned is that they contained a wealth of information that could have saved me much work if I just asked my relatives around me first. It can be a little scary starting those first interviews, but they are worth your time. 

I would learn and follow the principles of GPS.

The best foundation to begin your research is to understand Genealogical Proof Standard, an excellent foundation for guiding your research and decision-making process. I learned GPS, eventually, but had I taken the time upfront, I would have saved myself a great deal of time in the beginning if I had applied the 5 Steps to Proving Your Family History

I would cite my sources from day one. 

Again, I wish I had taken the time to cite all of my sources, not the willy-nilly approach I took 15 years ago. I also wish I had invested in Evidence Explained as a reference manual from the beginning. I know now, I don’t have to commit citations to memory. Now I have a lot of work in getting my sources and citations under control.  

Learn and understand what information you need to capture for a citation, and take the time to record that information. Give yourself the ability to retrace your steps, allow others to retrace your  steps and prepare yourself for writing your family history, even if it is years from now.

I would be very careful with family trees.

When I started my family tree online, they were new and all the rage. I certainly didn’t foresee what a problem they could become. Today, family trees need to have a warning label attached to them, “For clues only, not to be used as a source.”  Today, it is especially important for beginners to understand the pros and cons of information found in family trees and to proceed carefully.  

I would invest money in my genealogy education.

I wish I had invested some money in my knowledge and education. I would have been much further along than I am today. Conferences, webinars, local workshops at archives all provide opportunities to advance your knowledge of research methods and available resources. You can waste much time searching for information to advance your research. A little monetary investment can go a long way in making workshops and webinars work for you.  

I would visit an archive in the early days of my research. 

I started my family history research online.  I found Ancestry.com and began my research. While I was familiar with local archives, it was years into my research before I ventured into one. I wish I had made that step earlier and stepped out of my comfort zone.  I wish I had overcome my trepidation of archives earlier in my journey. Today, I volunteer as a researcher in my local Archives, and I don’t know what took me so long. Visit your local archives today.

That’s my list. You might have a few of your own to add to this list.

Go ahead, finish this sentence,  or tweet your answer

If I had to start again, I would......

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