Learning From Our Mistakes
- Order pension files for all the brothers in a family, not just one. You never know which one of them may lead you to the clues that you so desperately need to make that big breakthrough. I made the mistake of ordering only the file for my direct line ancestor. The 200 page file provided a wealth of information, but I finally got around to ordering the files of the widow and mother of his brothers. One of them answered a question that had gone unanswered for years.
- Research the neighbors and associates. If I'd done this when I first began researching years ago, I wouldn't have to revisit some of my research quite so often. Once I discovered that most of the neighbors of one of my ancestors were also his neighbors in a previous location, I realized the importance of this.
- Use a good genealogy software program. The first one I used was a shareware or freeware program that was completely inadequate. It had places for Birth, Christening, Marriage, Death, and LDS ordinances (which was not really of importance to me), but it only had 10 lines of notes. The notes had to be used for notes and for citation. I'm still fixing problems in my current database from this first software program I used.
- Organize your research in a meaningful way. I made the mistake filing most research in surname folders for years. I would just "stuff" materials into these folders. For the big surnames on which I was working, I would have 5 or 6 very thick folders to go through when I was looking for a specific piece of information. Things didn't often fit well, because some documents might fit multiple families, and I would just file it in one of the surname folders. My main filing system is now location-based. I put the copies of deeds, wills, etc. in the a folder that begins with a state abbreviation, then county, then document type in the order in which they would appear in the county records. This new system works well for me. The records are already cited in my database, so they are easy to locate when I need them again, no matter which name on that page I'm seeking.
- Don't rely too much on your genealogy software. Write up your research in a narrative form with footnotes. It helps you see where the holes are in your research. I could go into far greater depth on this one, but I'll leave it at this simple word of caution.