When I first started my tree on Ancestry.com, well, I made a big mess. I mean a big mess! Way too many people, relationships that didn’t make sense. Confusion as far as the eye could see. I have since learned my lesson, and here are ten rules I wish I had known when I got started:
- Enter what you know. Sure this one is obvious. But start with yourself and enter what you know about your parents and grandparents.
- Prep your tree for hints. You want those shaky leafs. Try to gather a first name, a last name, a date, a location and a relationship for your person. Sometimes you can get hints with less but this should launch you into shaky leaf nirvana.
- Apply the “does this make sense” test? Does it make sense that Mary Smith’s mother was 10 when she was born? Or maybe 82? Probably not. Or that Johnny was born 2 years after his father died? Before you attach any record give it the “does this make sense” test and save yourself some grief.
- Go slow. This is not a race. Take your time and look at each record and each image. This will allow you to avoid mistakes. Which leads us to …
- View the image. Attaching a record to your tree is a good thing. Viewing the image and thinking about what you see is a great thing. You will mostly likely learn a few things about your ancestors lives that you would have missed!
- Not everything on the internet is true. Gasp! Just because someone’s family tree says John is the father of Mary, doesn’t make it true. Or false. You need to evaluate for yourself. And even historical documents can be wrong. The informant may have been confused, may have lied, or just flat out didn’t know. Look at the evidence in totality and analyze for yourself.
- Start by gathering all the census records. This helps you find where a person lived at a certain time and who they lived with. If your census records say that your great grandfather was born in 1850 in Mississippi, that Massachusetts birth record you found probably isn’t him.
- Bigger is not better. There are no gold stars for adding 50,000 people to your tree. Having the 3rd great granddaughter of your great uncle’s brother-in-law’s nephew may just not be that useful. And it may confuse you down the road.
- Family is important. Do make sure you add in brothers and sisters of your direct ancestors and their spouses as you go. You may be able to break down brick walls by tracing siblings.
- Be focused. Work on one person or family group at a time finding everything you can. Don’t jump randomly around in your tree. This will help you see patterns and details that relate within the family.
What do you now know that you didn’t know when you started?
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.