The Genealogy Do-Over: My Golden Rules of Genealogy

As part of The Genealogy Do-Over, genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee shares his own "golden rules" for pursuing his genealogy and family history research.

The Genealogy Do-Over: Golden Rules I Use to Pursue Genealogy and Family History Research

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As you get ready for The Genealogy Do-Over, you might want to get a head start on the topic Setting Base Practices and Guidelines, one of the Month 2 topics.

I like the term “golden rules” because it invokes the spirit of The Golden Rule and focuses not just on my own research practices, but also on how I interact with other genealogists.

My Golden Rules of Genealogy

One technique that I use to come up with any list of practices is to look at them as recommendations: what key practices would I tell a new genealogist are necessary for success in tracing your roots?

A recent example is the 27 Golden Rules of Genealogy as put forth by Australian genealogist and blogger Alona Tester. Alona has sorted her list by Do’s and Don’ts and she appears to cover many areas upon which most genealogists would agree.

Another example is a list that I put forth in my recent e-book 500 Best Genealogy & Family History Tips, entitled Genealogy Rules to Live By:

  • There is No Easy Button in Genealogy. You will work hard to find your ancestors. Genealogy will require more than passion; it will require skills, smarts and dedication. Do not believe the hype of instant hints, smart matches and shaky leaves. If it were that easy, the journey of discovering our roots would have little or no meaning.
  • Research from a Place of “I Don’t Know.” Your genealogy research will likely run counter to your cherished family stories. It will upend your preconceived notions about certain events and people. It will change the way you think about your ancestors. This can only happen if you research with an open mind and take off the blinders.
  • Track Your Work and Cite Your Sources. When I started out in genealogy, I will admit I was a name collector and would “dump” almost any name into my database. Years later, I am crossing out entire branches of a tree that never really should have been “grafted” on to mine. Use a research log, track your work, cite your sources, and analyze data before it is entered into any software or online family tree program.
  • Ask for Help. The genealogy community is populated with people of all skill levels and areas of expertise, most of whom want to assist others. There are no stupid questions; we all started as beginners. There is no right way to ask. Post a query on Facebook, ask a question during a webinar, or email your favorite genealogy rock star.
  • You Can’t Edit a Blank Page. Which means: you have to start in order to have something to work with. That project you keep putting off, like publishing your family history, will not complete itself. Commit yourself to move from “obsession” to “reality.” Remember: A year from now, you will wish you had started today.
  • Work and Think Like Your Ancestors. While I am not sure about your ancestors, mine were resourceful and developed tools and skills to get what they wanted. They were not “educated” per se, but they had “street smarts” and knew where to go so they could learn new things. Also, make sure you have a plan; my ancestors did not just wake up one day and on a whim decide to come to America and make a better life. They had a plan, they had a network of people to help them, and they made it happen.
  • You Do Not Own Your Ancestors. Researching your roots can create emotional connections to not only your ancestors, but to the actual research itself. Many people become “possessive” of their ancestors and fail to realize that a 3rd great-grandparent is likely the ancestor of hundreds of others. You cannot take your research or your ancestor with you when you die; take time to share your research and be open to differences in information and research when collaborating with others.
  • Be Nice. The Genealogy Community is a Small Place. While there are millions of people searching for ancestors, genealogists worldwide have developed a community with relatively few degrees of separation. Whether it is online in a Facebook group or in-person at genealogy conference, it is likely you will already know someone. Being “genealogy nice” is not fake; the connections with other researchers tend to be deep and genuine. We know that all of our roots are interlocked and a genealogist cannot always go it alone.
  • Give and Be Abundant. Exchange information freely with other researchers; do not hold data “close” to you or exchange it in lieu of something else. Most genealogists who have heard me speak know my own story of abundance: Do not let your hand keep a tight grip on information. Let it go. Once your hand is free, it can be open and ready to receive the next good thing coming your way.

What Are Your Golden Rules of Genealogy?

Are you ready to come up with your own list of Golden Rules? Since all advice is autobiographical (it is based on your own experience), look back at your past failures and successes and come up with your own list. When creating your list, you may want to divide it into sub-groups such as:

  • Required
  • Important
  • Optional

Would you be willing to share them with others who are doing The Genealogy Do-Over? One option is to post them at your own genealogy blog or post them at The Genealogy Do-Over Group on Facebook.

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PLEASE NOTE: The post content above contains affiliate links. This means I make a percentage of sales via these links. This does not INCREASE the price you pay as a consumer. It simply supplements my income so I can continue providing as much free genealogy content as possible through my “abundance model.”

Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statement.

©2018, copyright Thomas MacEntee.  All rights reserved.

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

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