Tips from the Pros: Know It All?

from Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

I firmly believe that no genealogist knows it all. It took me a while to be able to admit I did not really know it all; the old ego gets in the way. Standing up in front of an audience or being interviewed can be a tricky experience if you don’t know the correct reply to a question. The same goes for our own family history research. How on earth could we know it all? Think about how many cities, counties, states, provinces, countries, and types of records exist. How many nationalities and religions are in your background? My ancestors come from at least seven countries. Their religions also number seven at this point.

You may be experienced in research related to a specific time period, locality, religion, ethnic group, or type of record. Some twenty years ago, a retired police detective told me that he had learned never to call himself an expert–all it took was difficulty in answering one tough or specialized question from a lawyer or judge in court and his expert status was in jeopardy. They would not forget him–but not for the right reason. A genealogist himself, he told me to keep this in mind in my research and teaching and to use the word experienced rather than expert.

There have been times when I have heard people say to me, “How do you know it all?” My reply varies somewhat but basically the response is that I don’t know it all and that if I don’t know the direct answer to their question, I am usually able to refer them to a website, guidebook, repository, or another genealogist.

The moral? Strive for varied experience; keep learning, be honest, and be willing to admit if you don’t know the exact answer. Your experience will lead you to places that can be checked for the answer. If someone tells you that they know all about something, use their advice, but don’t stop learning more about the topic, person, or place.

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One thought on “Tips from the Pros: Know It All?

  1. This article made me chuckle. Several years ago, I attended a genealogy conference in Fredericton, NB. One of the speakers, John Elliot started off the talk with the little “jewel”. He said he never wanted to be refered to as an expert. His reason being, if you break down the word, an “ex” is a has been and a “spert” a nothing more that a drip under pressure! I thought it was a good lesson to take to heart.

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