Monday, April 02, 2007

My Mistakes, I Have a Few

I've been thinking about Randy's Top 10 Foolish genealogy mistakes and reflecting back on my own genealogy "career". Randy's mistakes are common ones, certainly ones I've heard from others many times over. So how come I never made any of them? I'd like to brag that I'm so much wiser than Randy but the truth is I'm not. Not at all. I didn't make Randy's common mistakes because I couldn't. My circumstances just didn't lend themselves to these mistakes. Let's take a look:

10. Accepting other researchers family group sheets, pedigree charts and GEDCOMs sight unseen and merging them into my own databases. Arghh. It takes years to find all of the errors.
I guess it's just coincidence but only a couple of people have shared with me information on individuals who connect to my family tree and they both gave me their sources. I have a few GEDCOMs from people who I have a surname in common with that didn't give me sources but because they didn't "fit" on my tree I have them in separate files and not attached to my tree.

9. Accepting the names, dates, places in the LDS Ancestral File and putting them into my databases without checking them out. I didn't understand that the data might be wrong until it was too late.
I've looked at the LDS Ancestral File several times over the years trying to find a "match" but never had any luck... I guess I was lucky in my own way because I don't have to go back and correct all the errors now.

8. Finding a name, birth record and parents names for a person that "looks like" it is, and therefore "must be," my elusive ancestor. I have notebooks full of secondary information because I didn't find primary information that proves the relationships before going off on the wild goose chase.
Maybe I sort of made this mistake but only for a week. I was looking at BMD records from my grandfather's village in Poland and I thought I'd found his father's birth record. I was "sure" it was his because the village he came from was very, very small (abt. 80 people at the time he was born) and the name and date fit. A week later (the next chance I had to look at more records) I found another birth record for another child born a couple weeks later in the same month in the same village with the same name. It turns out that the second record I found was actually that of my grandfather's father. So for a week I had what "looked like" my great grandfather's birth record... but I didn't chase any geese (wild or otherwise) during that time ;-)

7. Not adding the source citations to my database entries at the time of data entry. This still haunts me - I am going back into my databases regularly to add source information.
Nope. Didn't do this one but not because I knew I should do it but because I thought I might want to look it up again some time in the future and I didn't want to have to spend a lot of time finding the record again.

6. Spending a LOT of time at the FHC searching the Ancestry databases when I could have subscribed many years ago for 50 cents a day or less.
My local FHC didn't have a computer with internet access until after I was pretty much done with my research so this wasn't even an option for me. Additionally, Ancestry databases aren't much help to people who aren't searching for records in America (more recently in Canada). Since I have only one generation of ancestors here in the U.S. before my research takes me "across the pond" Ancestry hasn't been a lot of help to me. I look at it every now and then for any new background documents that might put some flesh to the bones of the one generation of my ancestors here in America but I don't subscribe to it.

5. Spending a LOT of time at the FHC searching the Ancestry databases when I could have been searching microfilms for primary information data on my known ancestors.
The only thing I've ever done at the FHC was look at microfilms for primary information on my known ancestors. The few times I've looked for other resources there they didn't pan out.

4. Not attending national, state or regional genealogy conferences to benefit from the wisdom of other researchers.
I went to any and all local/state conferences that were relevant to my research... again, this would be specific to Polish research when I was still actively researching. I didn't go to as many genealogy society meetings as I should have though... but that's my own mistake and not one of Randy's ;-)

3. Not taking enough vacation/research trips that included visits to major repositories like the Family History Library (twice), NEHGS (thrice), NYGBS, DAR, Library of Congress (once), National Archives, Allen County, Newberry, etc.
I've never made a special trip to a major repository. I did stop in at the Family History Library once (for a day) when I was on vacation in Salt Lake City but I didn't find anything. I can order a lot of films for the price of traveling to SLC from Michigan so I was never really motivated to go there again. I'm not aware of other repositories that might have Polish vital records. I've been thinking about going to the Allen County library but only because I live about 3 hours drive from it and I feel like I'm missing out on something having never been there. I don't really have anything to research there.

2. Not spending enough interview time with my mother, my aunts, uncles and cousins to hear their life stories, to label photographs and to enjoy their company once I started my research.
Can anyone ever spend enough time at this? Don't we all know of some relatives that we could/should be interviewing? I've done a good deal of this (more than anyone else in the family) but I suppose I could be doing more. But daw-gone-it can't they write their own memories down? Do I have to do everything for them?! ;-)

1. Not starting my genealogy research until my father and grandparents had died, even though I had considered pursuing it years before they died. I never did interview my father or my grandparents about their lives or their memories.
My father died when I was 17 and I didn't even know the meaning of the word "genealogy" back then. My only living grandparent died when I was 13. I have interviewed my mom many, many times, some are even audio recordings. I've done what I could. I can't blame myself or see it as a mistake that I didn't take up genealogy research as a teenager.


My mistakes... I have a few...
1. I should have gone to more local genealogical society meetings and done so earlier on in my research. I say this not because it would have made my research easier or faster but because of the people I missed meeting, the people I would have liked to have known who have since died.

2. I should have tried to photograph old family homes, neighborhoods, churches before they were torn down. If I'd done this early on in my research I might have some photos to show for it today. Then again, maybe not. I don't know when my ancestor's homes were torn down so they might have been gone by the time I started my research. I sure wish I'd tried though.

3. I should have made an audio recording of my Aunt Mary Jane when I interviewed her. I'd brought a recording device with me and asked for her permission but she refused to give it. I shouldn't have asked. I should have just turned it on and began the interview. I long to hear her voice (which was raspy and quite distinctive) and so do my cousins.

Thanks for your post Randy. It made me really stop and think. It's good to reflect back on mistakes made so as to learn from them and not repeat them. It's also good to learn from other's mistakes.

Who's next? What mistakes have you made in the course of your genealogy "career"? Have you made some of Randy's or mine?

4 comments:

  1. My mistake was not taking advantage of small local historical and genealogical societies. They often have extensive and well-researched collections available for very reasonable fees. And a lot of the data isn't available anywhere else! I highly recommend contacting the local historical society wherever your ancestors lived!

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  2. You "fisked" my list really well!

    As you pointed out, your research experience was very different from mine. My sense is that almost every researcher has unique experiences based on their ancestry.

    Almost all of my colonial New England ancestors are in the Ancestral File and AF - I always found too much information in books, periodicals and databases.

    I do hope that others will post thier mistakes so we can all learn from them. I'm going to put mine in my local society newsletter!

    One of my posts today is 10 Wise decisions I've made in my research.

    Cheers -- Randy

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  3. I can see there is a distinct advantage of researching a minority ethnic group or family lines that no one else is working on. For my Frisian Dutch ancestors and some of my other family lines, I have not had other published genealogies to muddy the waters. However, for my colonial New England ancestors (same gene pool as Randy), there is a plethora of information, as well as many errors.

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  4. I've made many of the mistakes that Randy lists and others that are probably unique to me. There are very few unique surnames in my file so the LDS and DAR records I used often when I first started and they were often wrong. My biggest mistake was assuming that I must be doing something wrong when all the research done by others before me didn't add up.

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