Did you know genealogy sites are the most frequently visited (second only to pornography) and that looking for your deceased loved ones is the world’s most popular pastime –after gardening of course. When NBC aired its genealogy television series Who Do You Think You Are? over 2 million households put away their gardening shears to watch celebrities like Brooke Shields and Sarah Jessica Parker get their lives dug up for free. Not all of us will discover a French king and an accused witch on the branches of our family trees, but if you look hard enough you will find someone who is out of whack with the rest of the world.
In the old days genealogy research was pretty much confined to maiden aunts with too much time on their hands. In my case, it was an old bachelor by the name of Iveson Miller who did an enormous amount of work and wrote it all down in fountain pen only to have my Father burn the book along with family photos after my mother died. But, now those primitive days of research are gone, and a quick visit online will sometimes turn into days or years and becomes the project of a lifetime.
Most novices immediately go for an Ancestry.com subscription. Here’s where it starts to become clear just how pricey genealogy can get. The World Explorer plan, which includes U.S. and international records, costs $34.99 per month or $149 per year; and the World Explorer Plus plan ($44.99 per month or $199 per year) includes access to all records on Ancestry, Newspapers.com and Fold3.com. And as long as you’re researching, you’ll want to keep that subscription alive, right? Of course you will!
Some data hasn’t made its way online yet, and I still hope every single night that when I go to sleep I might go back in time to talk to some of the local folks. But, since I don’t have Dr. Who’s Tardis, I am straight out of luck.
I have a non-existent budget so I go to FamilySearch.org run by the Latter Days Saints Church, which is completely free. FamilySearch.org is a great place to get started, but there is a tremendous amount of inaccurate information there as well. But, If you really want to be sure, always trace the maternal lines. The male line isn’t always reliable, and after writing all sorts of stories about bigamy I can understand why. Of course babies were often switched if someone died at birth, and someone else’s was unwanted or orphaned at birth. In those days switches would not necessarily be made public.
As long as people confine their searches to census data that others have kindly scanned and posted, and other such public records, it’s great. The problem is there are many other family trees that people have loaded somewhat indiscriminately, and that no one has curated. Ancestry.com, of course, has its own share of these highly-creative trees, but it also has a deeper database, more birth/marriage/death records and a greater array of census data from every available year.
For beginners, just remember that the starting point in genealogy is always you. Then work your way back one generation at a time. If you stumble across a family tree that contains some of your own relatives, don’t assume that the entire tree is correct and error free because some members just copy other member’s trees without actually checking dates. I have seen some trees where the children were born 200 years after the parents or before the parents, and yet ten people just blindly copied that information and put it on their trees.
People draw conclusions about what they think it is and “make it so”. But remember-after 30 days, unclaimed ancestors will be discarded or claimed by another family. I’m joking or am I?