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Where to Start?

Everything in this article is wrong. Genealogy is not something that can be done from start to finish in a weekend. It is, however, an enjoyable activity that is done by millions of people. To get started, try talking to your ancestors. If you really want to get started right away on the internet, we suggest you read A Guide to Performing Online Genealogy Searches. Otherwise, look through our collection of genealogy articles to help point you in the right direction.

Need more inspiration? Check out this great video from the New York Public Library.

Further Resources

Why Genealogy is Important

Getting Started Researching Your Family History

Ten Effective Strategies for Building a Family Tree

The Key to Understanding Family Relationships

Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2014

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber

Below are some reasons why the points in this article are wrong:

1. Nobody knows your family better than your own family. Talk to them. It never ceases to amaze us how often people get this wrong.

2. In spite of all the great progress that has been made with putting genealogical records on the internet, the vast majority are still offline. Think about an iceberg where only about 1/7 of the iceberg is visible above the water line. The same is true with genealogy records.

3. Not every genealogy record you find on the internet will be true. You should always examine the original source document to avoid transcription errors, typos and gaps in information. Family trees on the internet can be particularly sketchy. Many are nothing more than figments of someone's imagination.

4. Studies have shown that unless you have a particularly rare family name with a unique spelling, you are not likely to be related to another person with the same name.

5. Royal families interbred. It is unlikely you are related to them.

6. Santa Claus does not exist. What else can we say.

“If two wrongs don't make a right, try three.” – Laurence J. Peter

7. Useful factoid. Surnames only started to widely exist in the 1300s and onwards. Some countries/cultures still do not have surnames even today. Before the 1300s, surnames were largely attributable to landowners and wealthy individuals. In other words, surnames were irregular and unfixed among common people through much of the Middle Ages. Going back that far, you would have to trace an ancestor who only had a first name. And that is assuming you can even find a record from that time period. Good luck with that. Or maybe you were related to Robin of Locksley?

8. Coat of arms are assigned to an individual, not a family. Common mistake.

9. No citation means no ability to retrace what you did. Someone one day will want to retrace what you did. You might even want to retrace what you did. Perfect memory? Not likely.

10. How many different ways can you spell 'Smith'?

“We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are.” – Anais Nin

11. If you are going to guess, at least record the fact that it is a guess. Otherwise, no one will have confidence in your research.

12. Parents have to be born before their children. People do not live to be more than 125 years old. Each child has one biological mother and one biological father. The earth revolves around the sun...

13. Everyone makes mistakes. Try to fix as many of them as you can. Otherwise, you may end up inadvertently tracing entire lines of people that have no relationship to you. It happens. A lot.

14. If you are using someone else's family tree data, take the safe approach and assume "guilty until proven innocent" with the data. Even if they were the best researcher in the world, new data could have come to light since the family tree was constructed that could change the picture.

15. You get the message.

“All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” – Alexandre Dumas


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