5 Lessons Learned as a New Family Researcher

1. Do not trust unsourced family trees
This was a lesson learned the hardest way possible. I was at least 6 months in to my family history journey when I was thankfully called out by another, more experienced researcher. When I began my research on Ancestry I didn't take anything with a grain of salt. I was so excited by the hints that I took all of them as fact. Unfortunately for you and me, there are A LOT of errors in the personal trees on Ancestry and rootsweb alike. If the hints you are using do not have documented sources, take them as a starting point, not as a fact. Keep your tree as clean and accurate as possible. When you have source documents to back up your line, add them to your tree. Keep track of ALL of your sources for future reference. It is never a good feeling when you have something listed, but can't remember where you had found the information.

2. All documents are subject to flaws
I have seen flaws in many census records as well as old and more recent newspapers. I have sourced obituaries as fact only to find out later that it was teeming with errors. It is always best practice to source your findings with two or more documents in order to avoid document error pitfalls.

3. Do local, off-line research
Ancestry, family search, rootsweb and personal family trees and histories do a great job of helping you along in your research. These tools have brought libraries of information into your home that are accessible 24-7. Although online tools have come a long-long way, they still do not encompass everything that is out there. By visiting your local archives, historical societies, and libraries you will be able to break down some of those brick walls and learn valuable information about your ancestors. Do not fear the microfiche machine!

4. Use living relatives and document their stories
When starting out, begin with yourself or your parents. Use the eldest members of your family and document EVERYTHING they can share with you about their parents, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and places. The most rewarding part of my research thus far has been hearing and reading stories of my ancestors that I was never able to meet in person. Do not take your elders for granted. Learn from them as much as you can before they are no longer around to share.

5. Lean on other researchers
I have found the genealogical research community to be passionate, dedicated and amazingly helpful. Many have gone way above and beyond to help me find my way. Reach out to others. We are all on the same mission and we are all detectives by nature. Ask questions, share information and pay it forward!