Building your family tree is a fascinating and rewarding endeavor, but like any new skill or hobby, genealogy comes with a few challenges that can be frustrating to beginners. Every project faces its own set of pitfalls, but some of the most common problems faced by amateur ancestry researchers are:
- Not having a goal in mind before beginning to research. The number of relatives to trace increases hugely in very few generations, especially if you're interested in researching siblings and children. Your research will be more efficient if you know ahead of time who you want to find. It's also helpful to have an idea of what information you want to know about those people. Do you want photos? Copies of their records? Life stories? When you have a clear goal for your research, it's easier to filter out time-consuming, unnecessary information and get straight to what's important.
- Forgetting to consult living relatives. Time with elderly relatives is precious, so put it to good use. Family members can be a wealth of genealogical information, especially the unique stories that really bring your family's history to life. If you're unable to pay a visit in person, ask another family member to go in your stead or write to your relatives with a list of questions. In addition to their stories, they may even be able to share photographs and other interesting pieces of family memorabilia.
- Failing to keep track of your research. In an extreme case, years of research could be lost when the power unexpectedly goes out or a computer crashes. Back up your data early and often, and consider storing it in multiple formats. You can save one copy to an external hard drive, print another, and post a third to a blog that chronicles your research. Keeping track of your genealogical research also gives you an organized record that can easily be referred to when you need to find or reexamine something.
- Believing everything you read. Never assume that a family tree is accurate just because it has been published somewhere. You can never know the quality of someone else's research, so it's always safer to conduct your own or at least perform a thorough background check on their data. Honest mistakes are easy to make, vital information may have been left out, unsound assumptions might have been made, or transcription errors may have occurred. Evaluate everything with a critical eye, question your sources, and draw your own conclusions.
- Sticking to shallow research. Knowing who your long-lost relatives were is only a piece of the genealogical puzzle. Sure, it's interesting to know their names, but what about the details that really make them come alive? Track down photographs, find information on where they lived, and study the historical events that would have influenced their lives. These are the details that make your ancestors real, three-dimensional people, not just a collection of names and dates.
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