Wednesday, December 16, 2009

To put it mildly ...

Most of us are pretty busy this time of year, with holidays looming, but while our endeavors in family history research are likely to get put aside temporarily, the subject may come up during conversations with friends and family.

What is the comment you hear most often from non-genealogists? Is it “how far back have you gone?” I tell people my interest is in whole families and their stories, not just a straight-line pedigree; hence my progress is not based series of “begats.”

Or do they dismiss the subject by saying, “A cousin did our father’s line a long time ago.” Oh yes? Did she cite her sources? And haven’t there been any changes since then?

“My friend traced has her ancestry back to the time of _____ ” (fill in the blank with any name before 1500). Once again, the question is, what sources were used -- and how valid were they?

“I found a whole genealogy of our family on the Internet.” The fact that someone wrote it down and published it somewhere is NOT evidence of its accuracy.

“Our name was changed at Ellis Island.” This is a common belief, but not as likely as many people seem to think. There were many other reasons for our ancestors’ names to be modified.

The corollary to this is the fact that a family surname may have been spelled many ways. One should never ignore a “Daugherty” when looking for Dohertys, just because “we never spelled it that way.”

“Three brothers came to this country …” This is an old story, not often true, according to the professionals.

“I can’t take up genealogy -- it is too expensive.” Well, yes and no. It does not have to be costly. Plenty of people work from home, with diligent use of correspondence, inter-library loans, and contact with the public libraries and genealogical / historical groups in their areas of interest. No computer at home? The local public library very likely provides online access for free, and perhaps even some subscription databases. The LDS Family History Centers are found just about everywhere, and welcome everyone, with assistance and support.

Perhaps, in the gentlest way possible, you could respond to these misapprehensions. Or maybe just remind yourself of them -- after all, there is no need to start a feud at the Christmas party.


One last thing -- how long has it been since you backed up your research? (I am assuming you have a computer, since you are reading this.) Do yourself a favor and go do it now.

Then relax and enjoy the holidays!


Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post - I knew that from the start but then you won me with the plea to backup data - a cause close to my heart.

I get the "how long is it" question all the time - about my family chart. I tell them I'd prefer a wide one over a long one: a wide chart that is correctly sourced and filled with stories, photos and more really illustrating the lives of my ancestors.

Liz Haigney Lynch (Ancestral Archaeologist) said...

Love this!

I guess I always get roped into arbitrating what's the difference between a second cousin and a first cousin once removed. Usually the person who asks has their own idea of the answer anyway, right or wrong :)

Another corollary to the surname-spelling issue: People who assume a family is related to ours *only* because "they have our last name, and it's so unusual." Well maybe, maybe not -- but you have to have a bit more to go on!

Lori said...

Name spelling has been one of the most interesting aspects of my research. It's fascinating to me how within one family the last name could have evolved in many different ways. While I enjoy seeing the evolution of the spellings from the German form to all the English variations, it can certainly be maddening!