Thursday, September 12, 2013

Learning from Past Mistakes

Warning sign

James Tanner of Genealogy’s Star posted an interesting article today. It’s called “Copy and Paste Genealogy -- Is this the future?” and it’s about how some people are given a family tree chart and focus only on the unknown individuals. He explains how these people aren’t interested in learning more about the names that are already on the chart, because they're already discovered and therefore are ‘finished’ – in other words, there’s no need for them to further investigate the found ancestors.

I know from experience that it’s essential to do just that – investigate those found ancestors to make sure that whatever past research has been done on them is correct.

Some thirty years ago, I corresponded with a relative who had been doing genealogy for a good number of years. She was my mother’s cousin and a retired teacher. I had been researching my family tree for a few years, but was still mostly a beginner. To help me out, she sent me a family tree chart and papers of some of the work she had done on a line she and my mother shared. I was thrilled to receive this package! I figured some of the work is already done for me and I could just sit back and enjoy the material. I didn’t need to do my own research, I rationalized, because it was already done. I happily incorporated the information into my notes and moved on to other ancestors.

I bet you’re thinking at this point that I probably ran into problems, right? I did. I don’t remember exactly how many years it took (I think it was 5-10 years), but one day, I tried to connect other maternal lines to that earlier line and just couldn’t make the connection. What could be wrong? I had the paperwork my correspondent sent me; surely there couldn’t be any mistakes, could there?

Unfortunately, there was.

After I did my own research on this particular line, I realized there was an extra generation on the pedigree chart. It turned out that my relative had inadvertently attached people who weren’t my ancestors.

In the end, this mistake didn’t affect the remaining portion of the pedigree, but it gave me unnecessary work and lost time trying to unravel the relationships of people who didn’t belong on that chart.

If only James had written his article in the 1980s. I might have realized early on the importance of doing all of my own research and avoiding “copy and paste genealogy”.

Copyright © 2013, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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