Thursday, August 11, 2011

"You Don't Need to Know What You're Looking For ..."

You know the ads.  An actor talks about researching family history, following leaves, and an amazing revelation, then says, "You don't need to know what you're looking for.  You just need to start looking."

Well, if you don't know what you're looking for, how will you know it when you find it?  How will you know that the person you're linking to is actually your ancestor?

Those ads remind me of Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat:  “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”

If you don't know where you want to go--don't know what you're looking for--then it doesn't matter which person you link to.  Anyone will do.  But if you want to find your family, you need to have a plan.  You need to know what, and who, you're looking for.

Talk to your family.  Call your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, your parents' best friends.  Look on the backs of old photos, because information may be written on the back.  Look in the family Bible for names.  Once you know who you're looking for, it can actually be easier to find them, because you know where they probably will be and who will be with them.

Do the research to find your family members.  Take the time to document and prove each connection in your family tree.  Don't just blindly follow a twitching leaf that someone else has posted and take that person at his word.  You might end up climbing someone else's family tree instead.


  1. You are so right! It is not fun climbing up someone else's family tree, because you have to climb down. Great Points.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Yvette. One positive thing that could come out of climbing someone else's tree and climbing down again is that it would be good exercise in better research tactics.

  3. What the people who click on a leaf want:
    "But...but... I want it to be EASY to do research. I want to be able to click and find everything laid out for me perfectly. I want to be handed my family history on a plate and...."

    What the people who click on a leaf really mean:
    "Oh. I want a professional researcher to do my work for me, but I'm too cheap to pay for one."

    Love the line about climbing another family tree. My own tree has enough nuts in it - I don't need to look for someone else's.

  4. I definitely agree with your comment that people want it to be easy. The instantaneous nature of the Internet has accustomed people to being able to find information at the touch of a keystroke. Programs such as WDYTYA and ads such as the ones I refer to don't help, because they don't emphasize the hard work that's required to document and prove a lot of family history.


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