For the budding genealogist, ancestry research can be both exciting and terrifying. Every branch you add to your family tree tells your more about your place in history and what made you who you are today, but if you're new to genealogy it's a task that can be daunting. I've written before about some of the most common mistakes that beginner genealogists make, but here are a few more pitfalls that amateur ancestry researchers should steer clear of:
- Not double checking other people's work. Yes, even professional genealogists make mistakes (but shh....don't tell them I told you that). Even if the data you find matches perfectly with your own research, you should never take anything for granted. Contact the researcher if you can, and retrace the steps they took to gather their information. You may find out that they were right after all, but at least you know for sure that your info is correct and, as an added bonus, you'll have improved your research skills.
- Relying on generic family histories. As you begin your research, you may find advertisements that promise a history of your family name. Beware – they're scams that provide very little information, and it's unlikely that any of it actually pertains to your family. Nothing in these histories should be taken seriously, unless you can back it up with your own research.
- Starting at the wrong end of the family tree. When my grandfather researched our family, he found that we once owned a castle in Switzerland and are distantly related to a king of France. Finding out that you're descended from royalty or a celebrity is exciting, but it's an end point, not a starting place. If you begin you genealogical research with the intention of proving that you're related to someone famous, you're more likely to make careless mistakes and omissions in the name of proving your connection.
- Getting ahead of yourself. I traveled to Vienna with my family when I was a child to research our Austrian ancestors, but that wasn't the beginning of my family's genealogical research. As a new genealogist you're probably anxious to study your family's country of origin – and maybe even to visit it – but that's rarely an effective place to start. Preliminary research should be done before you dive into any foreign investigations, so that you're able to successfully locate your ancestors' records when you do have an opportunity to go abroad.
- Confusing family legends with family history. Legends are stories – history is fact. Your family may have traditions and tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. While they do help bring your ancestors to life, they shouldn't be taken at face value. It's your job to research and sort fact from family fiction.
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