Sometimes the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” thought process is an exercise in futility, however in this case I think it may provide some amount of utility to anyone who is looking for ideas of where to start their journey in their family history hunt. Then again it may also be helpful for anyone who has been at the hunt for a while but hasn’t yet come up with a shoulda, coulda, woulda list.
Here is my list of things that took me a long time to figure out, and of course, that I wish I had known sooner. On the brighter side, now that I have figured them out I can use them to my best advantage on the road to becoming a better researcher.
1) Podcasts: It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the usefulness of genealogy podcasts. I am not sure how I missed them for so long, nor do I remember how I stumbled upon them when the time came. All I know is that I am SO thankful for finding these helpful, free, resources for genealogists. Two of my faves are Genealogy Gems and the Genealogy Guys podcast. If you have iTunes all you have to do is search for Genealogy in the iTunes store and you’ll be in heaven. I have learned so much even in the little time that I’ve been catching up on all of the past episodes I should have been listening to all along.
2) Google Reader and Genealogy Blogs: Another underutilized resource. Until recently I only read a genealogy related blog if I had stumbled upon it after googling for specific ancestors, or information about a particular area. Then I found Google Reader. Google Reader is what as known as an “aggregator service” which is just a fancy-tech way of saying it keeps track of any web feeds you want to follow, including all of those wonderful genealogy blogs. I now follow dozens of genealogy blogs, and it seems there are more added every day. Google reader allows me to scan for posts I might be interested in while ignoring the rest. My favorites include Dear Myrtle, Dick Eastman, Genealogy Tip of the Day, and of course Tonia’s Roots.
3) Genealogy Conferences: I went to my first conference in Springfield Massachusetts this past April and I had a blast. I learned a tremendous amount, met a lot of wonderful fellow genealogists, and made new friends that I am still in contact with today (all these months later – haha). The resources and learning opportunities at these conferences are endless.
4) Question Everything!: There’s a lot of information out there that has unfortunately been passed on from one researcher to the next, without having been proven. Whatever you might hear from another researcher, make sure you verify the sources yourself. If there are no sources, be very, very wary, and do your own investigating. It might take extra time, but in the long run it can save you from hours of barking up the wrong tree.
5) Don’t jump to conclusions: This goes hand-in-hand with #4, above. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding something that looks, at first glance, like it might be a good match. Don’t let the excitement cloud your objectivity; make sure you question the connection until not only you are convinced, but until you can convince the most skeptical of researchers.
6) Relatives are not immortal: Get out there an interview your oldest relatives, NOW. Believe me when I say if the opportunity passes you by you will always regret it. Here’s a great post about interviewing with sample questions at About.com
7) Organize, organize, organize: Everyone has a different organization style, but whatever yours is, start to work on it from day one. Genealogy research by it’s nature involves collecting tons of pieces of paper, written notes, and electronic files (email, copies of blog posts, discussion boards, records, etc.). The longer you continue to dive into the hunt without taking some time to back up and figure out how you want to organize everything, the harder it will be to dig out once the mess is there (I know this from experience). It can become overwhelming to have to deal with the mess so work on the organization from the beginning. I found Managing a Genealogical Project by William Dollarhide is a great place to start. About.com also has quite a few articles about organizing. There is also a lecture available by Elyse Doerflinger on “Conquering the Paper Monster.”
8 ) Genealogy Societies: Both your local society and societies from the areas in which your ancestors lived can be another tremendous source of information and support.
9) Genealogy Education: There are so many courses available now, including some free courses, that it almost doesn’t make sense to start diving in without having at least some working knowledge gleaned from the experts. Seek out the free courses, and if they’re helpful and you believe a paid course can be of even further use, consider that as well.
10) Budget both time and finances: This has been very difficult for me to learn. It is all to easy to get caught up in searching and lose track of time. And despite the fact that all of the blogs, and courses, conferences and societies are available for learning, there is just not enough time in my day to do it all right now. Sitting down and putting together a ‘plan’ for what I want to accomplish has helped. Rather than jumping right in and losing track of time, I can set aside 20 minutes to scan through blogs, 1 hour this week to search on my Cole line, etc.
The same goes for finances. Genealogy is NOT an inexpensive hobby. If I were to subscribe to every genealogy website, join every society, take every course, and attend every conference that I want to, I’d be in debt from here to eternity. I’ve had to ask myself what is most important, and then go from there. These are difficult decisions, but once they’re made it’s a small leap to make the most of the areas in which I do invest my time and resources.
11) Finally I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Cyndi’s List, which has a humongous directory of genealogy related links. It is definitely worth spending a little extra time on her site to get a feel for what is available there. In the long run it can save you future time in using search engines if you use some of the portals on Cyndi’s site.