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Genealogy's Most Popular Disbeliefs

If you're just starting out on your quest for your ancestors, you may get sidetracked by some of the disbeliefs about it. Don't believe everything you hear.

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Prepared by: Bob Brooke
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If you're just starting out on your quest for your ancestors, you may get sidetracked by some of the disbeliefs about it. Don't believe everything you hear.

Some people will tell you that genealogy is easy. Hearing this, you come to believe that all the records out there are perfect. All you have to do is find the ones that apply to your family and record the information. Right? Well, it isn't quite that simple. If it were, there wouldn't be any need for genealogy libraries and societies.

You may also hear the opposite-genealogy is extremely difficult and time consuming. This can be true for certain people. Those who've been adopted, for instance, often have a difficult time tracing anyone they're related to until they discover who were their birth parents. People living in locations ravaged by war or political unrest may find that most, if not all, records have been destroyed. During the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao Se Tung ordered all the genealogical records in towns and villages destroyed as a way of making a break with the past. Some residents had the foresight to bury their records for safekeeping. Some, like indigenous people in Brazil, had no written records until the 1840s, thus no way to trace their families. However, most people, including yourself, most likely have some sort of family records to sift through. And let's face it, if genealogy were that hard, you wouldn't be reading this column.

Many people believe that if they collect as much information as they can for everyone with the same last name, they'll eventually find what they need to connect members of their family. While this may work for those who have a unique surname, it doesn't for those with a common last name like Smith-the most common name in the United States. You can, of course, collect names from a particular time period and locality where you know your ancestors lived, but anything else is a waste of time.

Another disbelief is that you only need to record the information you need. While you should certainly do that, you also need to make note of where you did your searches, even if you got nothing from them. Chances are very good that you'll end up searching those same sources again unless you make a note of them.

Are there legends about past relatives floating around your family? Too many beginning genealogists rely too heavily on the information contained in these family legends. Most of the time they've been passed down from generation to generation. And since it's usually an older relative who becomes the caretaker of the legend, it seems likely that it's true because most people respect the elder members of their families. You need to prove if a legend is, in fact, true. Generally, these legends have their origins in fact, but over time have become twisted towards making the person or persons involved and your family appear better than they really are, thus leading you in the wrong direction.

Some beginners also believe that if they begin with a distant ancestor with the same last name, especially if that person if famous, then work forward to the present that they'll be able to tie that person to their family. This, too, is usually a waste a time. Follow the logic of genealogy by beginning with what you know and working backwards.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that all records are correct. Nothing can be father from the truth. Many compiled records have lots of mistakes in them, especially if someone transcribed them from old handwriting. It's important to always research original records or copies of them whenever you can.

Since the arrival of the Internet and genealogy software, too many beginning genealogists believe that they can do all their research online. After all, aren't everyone's records somewhere in cyberspace? Remember the thrill of finding your first ancestor through a Web site? The majority of beginners believe that if they search long enough that they'll eventually find all their ancestors. But the biggest problem you'll have is proving it. Unless you can track down the actual records and create your own paper trail, you cannot be sure that whoever posted the information online did a thorough job of researching it.

Even if some or all of these disbeliefs have led you astray, don't give up. With diligence and hard work, you'll eventually find the information you need to grow your family tree.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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