If Only I Knew Then….

I’ve only been doing genealogy since September 2010. Eight months may not seem like a long time when you consider how many people out there have been working on their family tree for 20+ years. However, in those 8 little months I’ve accumulated 1,850 people on my family tree. How many of you would want to stop researching and go back through those 1,850 people to add sources to each piece of information?

The following is a list of things I wish I knew from the start. It would have saved me lots of time and aggravation, but at this point I  hope it helps someone else out there who’s just starting to work on their own family tree.

  • I can’t stress enough to you just HOW important sources are. Once I began my tree, I went back to my parents to ask them about some of the stories I remember hearing over the years. I feverishly took notes on what they told me. I had papers scattered everywhere. On some I wrote whether it was my mom or dad that gave me a certain bit of info. On most I wrote the date down. But when I entered some of the info into my family tree program, I didn’t bother to source it. It’s not a fun task to go back through all of my pages and pages of notes, scattered throughout various file folders – trying to piece everything back together into a valid source citation.

  • Digital files – take the time from the beginning to properly name each and every file you save. Be descriptive, you’re allowed a lengthy file name most of the time. Once your tree starts growing and you get into the habit of filing your digital documents into certain folders, you’ll find that “ThomasKozubowski1918WW1DraftCard.jpg” is much easier to find and more relevant than “Kozubowski Draft.jpg,” especially if you have more than one Kozubowski, and draft cards from more than one war.


  • Dick Eastman (http://blog.eogn.com) has an excellent article on the importance of saving images as uncompressed tiffs. I suggest you get a sizeable external hard drive as uncompressed tiffs can be huge, but if you want your image files to last for as long as possible without degrading, it’s well worth it. I have hundreds of images that I need to find the originals of, upload into photoshop, and convert to an uncompressed tiff. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it to me.


  • Another reason that properly sourcing, properly labeling, and properly storing your genealogy early on is so important: finding new relatives. When a relative you didn’t even know you had contacts you, they’re more than willing to share what information they have. You’ll of course want to share in return – but not once you see their descendant report! Theirs is all organized, with thoroughly detailed sources, and you have no clue where you got most of your information, or where some of your digital files are stored. You can avoid this by keeping detailed and accurate information from the start. Trust me – it WILL make a difference!


  • Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker DO NOT SYNC! This means, you can upload/download your tree from/to Ancestry to/from Family Tree Maker,  but as you update one, it will NOT update the other. Once I realized this I was already heavily into using Family Tree Maker exclusively, but I tried keeping Ancestry updated as well. Unfortunately. that isn’t realistic and so my tree on Ancestry has about 400 people missing from it.


  • Speaking of FTM, please be aware that it only backs up the tree that is currently open. Not a big deal, just something to be aware of early on, because you’ll also want to break out family lines into seperate trees as early as possible. It makes it more manageable when you’re working on your own branches. It makes it much easier to share a GED file with a family member and to only give them the relevant people, and as far as file sizes go, it’s more manageable. Right now each backup file of my main tree (consisting of the Wisniewski, Polanski, Serwanski, and Jucha lines) is over 1GB.


  • www.cyndislist.com is your best friend. Thankfully, I found that site early on, and it answered a ton of questions for me and saved me oodles of time.


  • Keep a correspondence log as soon as possible! This should include people you contact through Facebook. Be descriptive. This will come in handy if you need to go back and reference who gave you something, or what you’ve already ordered. I actually almost ordered the same obituary twice from the PGSA (Polish Genealogical Society of America). I remember thinking “Why haven’t I ordered this yet?” and I started preparing the forms until I remembered to check my correspondence log. I hadn’t received the obituary yet, but there was my entry showing that I mailed out the request only a week prior.


  • One of the most important lessons to have learned the hard way – DO NOT ASSUME when sharing information with family members that they already know the family secrets and/or scandals, nor should you assume they WANT to know. Always ask before sharing something sensitive. You never want to call up mom and dad and say “How come you never told me grandma had a sex change before she married grandpa?” Maybe they didn’t know. You want your family on your side, so tread carefully. 🙂

One thought on “If Only I Knew Then….

  • May 20, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Hey! How’d you have time to write all of this????? lol

    You write SO eloquently 🙂
    Do you have any time for me yet? When you give me bits & pieces, it’s exciting, but I soon forget what tidbit went with whom, who’s side of the family it went with, etc. I would really like to just come spend an evening with you pouring over everything and learning about our family 🙂

    Love you

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