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Reminders for Beginners and the Not-So-New Genealogist


Naming Patterns - Important Clues

The FIRST SON was named after the FATHER'S FATHER
The SECOND SON was named after the MOTHER'S FATHER
The THIRD SON was named after the FATHER

The FIRST DAUGHTER was named after the MOTHER'S MOTHER
The THIRD DAUGHTER was named after the MOTHER

--The Odom Library in Moultrie, Georgia

Minding Your Manners in Family History: Rules of the Road for All Genealogists

The practice of genealogy or family history has some time honored unspoken rules of decorum attached to it. If you would like to be involved with sharing of information on any level, there are a few things you need to know:

  1. Always offer to defray the costs for requested genealogical information, usually postage and copy costs. It is up to the sender to decline, but it sends a strong and clear message that you are a responsible person well aware of genealogy etiquette. You may not realize it, but some individuals receive dozens of requests. It can be frightfully expensive and time consuming to cater to all requests. Your good manners may pay huge dividends and may be a refreshing alternative to other thoughtless greedy requests.

    Archives and county courthouses have their own rules for requesting information. Better find out what those are before sending any requests.

  2. When you request information by e-mail don't make the reader read your mind via a few cryptic lines. Tell them WHERE you saw their lineage listed, WHAT you are looking for, and SHARE some of your own research on this family. Some professional or near-professional genealogists delete most e-mail because of time constraints, so if you want them to help you better be willing to share your own information WITH documentation in a logical manner.

  3. All genealogy you share with others (via US mail or e-mail) should include the name (source) of the original author (the one who did the actual research). If you compiled your ancestry from sources other than your own first-hand research you need to indicate very specifically in your genealogy. Never cross out the name of the originator and add your own name to other people's genealogy. This is misleading and the person receiving the information cannot go back to the original author to make inquiries.

  4. Just because you are excited about you research, don't expect others to pick up your gauntlet and willfully join you. They have their own directions and focus. When walking into a genealogy library, archive, or family history center no volunteer or employee wants, or is interested in your entire family tree. Learn to summarize your request in a few succinct lines: "My grandfather disappeared after the 1850 census in North Carolina, what is the quickest way to find where he moved?" (Answer: Use the AIS or Accelerated Indexing System).

  5. You might want to restrain from the compulsion to ask for "everything you have" when requesting genealogy from a library, archive or person. Remember that experienced researchers have been in the trenches for years, paying their dues film-by-film, document-by-document, census-lineby census-line, dollar-by-dollar. In fact, many individuals pay large sums of money and employ professionals to dig it up. For you to assume you have the right to ask and receive an entire collection is a tad presumptuous and bad taste. If you build up a relationship of trust, good manners, and joint-sharing, you most likely will inherit a hefy booty.

  6. On the internet: If you go to a site and find research, drop a note to the author indicating you have been there and collected data. Bridle your inclination to run that little mouse down the web site to copy everything without telling the author what you are doing. The author deserves to be notified AND to be sourced in your genealogy program. To not notify the person, and to add your name as the source is a breech of good genealogy research practice, as well as a breech of ethics and copyright. If you merge a massive amount of information from someone's work via a gedcom file or in hard copy, you must ASK before you turn that gedcom into a web site of your own (including on Family Tree Maker and other commercial places which foster this sort of thing). If you ignore these guidelines and you are discovered, those coffers of genealogy research just might be closed to you in the future.

    --D'Ann Stoddard

No. 1 Error in Research: The Spelling of Names

Name Spelling: Want to Find Your Family in the Records? Be Creative and Flexible

Until the mid-eighteenth century, how a word was spelled was not considered important. Surnames in manuscripts were often spelled in different ways, even in the same document. With the publication of dictionaries, Nathan Bailey's in 1730 and Samuel Johnson's in 1755, things began to change. Account was then taken of the word's origin, formation and meaning, which eventually led to a standardization of both spelling and pronunciation. As most records containing a surname were written by a clerk rather than the surname owner, and the clerk only had the sound of the name to guide him, it could be said that most of us use a name that is derived from the sound rather than the spelling.

We can see with the many dialects and little literacy how various census takers, clerks, record keepers, friends and neighbors spelled the names of those known to be our kin in various records:

Latter-day abstractors making indices for census, tax and other records were no better! They seemed to be as creative as those who pre-dated them who were barely literate. A watchword here: Just because your ancestor does not show up in a contemporary index of the census or other work does NOT mean he is not there. Always check the original records yourself.

When searching for your kin and relatives, take great care to be creative and as broad minded as possible. Insisting upon a name being spelled a certain way is limiting to your search. May we never again hear the statement: "That's not my person, the name is spelled wrong."

--Broadly adapted from Family Tree, Odom Library, Georgia and from the Wake Co Coordinator

It's in Print--It Must Be True!

  • WARNING: What you Read May Hurt You...

    Many books published in the past are so lacking in basic documentation that they are harmful to persons pursuing their genealogy.

    Do you have a tendency to copy anything out of a book or the Internet and feel because it has been printed in a book or on the Internet that it must be fact? Then you will have big troubles!

    Unless a book cites primary sources, it should NOT be used as a reference. A book should only be used as a stepping off point (a clue) to find an ancestor. Even if the work cites references, it may not be correct. There are many mistakes in many published papers and books and on every surname web site. Care must be taken when using these sources.

    Acts of faith may be admirable in religion, but genealogy should not be exalted to that status. It should remain a science and research methods worthy of the designation. Reputable genealogists constantly revise in the light of new evidence revealed. You will see this web site change continually as mistakes are corrected, and as new research alters the present data. An open mind must be kept at all times. Doubt what you read! Question it! Look it up yourself!

    How many times do you repeat what your grandmother told you as fact? Can you prove it? Stories are wonderful, but remember they are only stories until backed up with evidence. Memories play tricks on a person. They dim over time and have a tendency to glorify facts after awhile. Label your stories as such and try to back them up with proof.

    Today, compilers of family histories who borrow from previously compiled genealogies without verifying their documentation help to perpetuate false information i that should have been revealed as such.

    Beware of histories based on myth! Heed words such as "probably," "I think," "possibly," "in all likelihood," "presumably," "supposedly," "perhaps," "conceivably," "evidently," "presume," "seemingly," "assume," "imagine," "suspect," "surprise," or any word that indicates the author is guessing.

    Among the worst offenders in propagating dubious or undocumented genealogy were the periodicals devoted to the subject. Examples: The William and Mary Quarterly, The Virginia Magazine of History & Biography. It was not a period of verification. Family histories based on these older works should bear warning. "This product will give you genealogical glaucoma," "contaminated source: beware of coliform bacteria."

    --Broadly adapted from "Magazine of Virginia Genealogy", Vol. 26 No 1, Feb 1988.

Beginning Genealogy on the Internet

It is not uncommon for a beginning researcher to ask for "everything you have." Actually the very first step for a beginner is the "home survey"--go through their own family histories, oral histories, documents, boxes of photos, old pieces of paper, contact relatives and organize that information and then work back in incremental steps, not the other way around. It is a misnomer to want to leap across the ocean four generations ahead-- you do genealogy step-by-step backwards in time from the last ancestor known. Here's a great resource page which leads to many resources for understanding the research process. Even classes for beginners: Cyndi's How To Internet Sites

  • LDS Church: "How Do I Begin?

  • Everton's Genealogical Helper, "Getting Started"

    Topics include an introduction to genealogical research, Roots-L FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), genealogical scams, and tips on e-mail for genealogists.

  • Family Tree Maker's "HOW TO" Guide

    This commercial site has an excellent step-by-step guide. Topics include collecting information from your family, getting organized, and finding missing pieces.

  • Family History Center Tutorial

    Includes a tour of a Family History Center, records available, and downloading to disk from the center computers.

  • "How To" from Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet

    Excellent links from Cyndi Howells.

  • Chris Gaunt's Home Page

    Genealogy Resources on the Internet.

  • Sharpen Your Research Skills
    Carmen Finley's Augusta County VAGenWeb Page.
Place Your E-Mail Address on a List and Network with Others

  • Find Your Surname Mailing LIst It's easy to join a mailing list for the ancestral surnames you search.
  • Everton's Genealogical Helper, "Getting Started"
    Topics include an introduction to genealogical research, Roots-L FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), genealogical scams, and tips on e-mail for genealogists.

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