Skip To Content
Plan Your Visit

Welcome to the International African American Museum! Advanced timed tickets are required for all visitors. Popular dates and times may be sold out.

Sep 04, 2017

Family History Research: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned

Family history research is one of the most rewarding adventures that you can experience. What makes it most rewarding is how it brings family members and communities closer as discoveries are made.  There are many ways to have success in the process of finding, recording, and sharing what you learn, but there are also common mistakes that researchers share.  Whether you have just begun or if you have been on your genealogy journey for a while, follow the wisdom below to avoid pitfalls along the way.

Missing the Interview

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding records, but the biggest disappointment in family history research will come if you get to the point where records are not to be found and you realize that you could have asked questions of a loved one who passed away before you could conduct an oral history interview.

If you are aware of any relatives who may provide important clues to aid your search, take a break from the computer.  Jot down the questions you want to ask, and make an appointment right away. Conduct the interview over the phone if necessary. You have no idea where your efforts will lead. The interviewee may refer you to another person who can contribute more than you could imagine. If you feel challenged by the thought of conducting an oral history interview, reach out to us for assistance.

Not Asking the Right Question of the Right Person

Before an actual oral history interview, review the missing information on your family tree. Ask specific questions so you can learn more about the ancestor in question.  For example, if you do not know the names of your second great grandparents, one of their grandchildren may yet be living to provide details. You may only need to identify your grandparent’s first cousin and interview that person.

Perhaps you do not even know the person at this moment.  Once I attended a service at the same church that my second great grandparents attended. I queried a few of the elderly members after the service. I met one gentleman who was a small child when my second great grandmother died. He told me how he walked to the country church to attend her funeral. He said her casket was green.

Other members told stories about church homecomings held long ago.  They said everyone used to transport the food for the event in the back of their vehicles. They all parked  alongside each other, and after the service they would serve the feast from their cars outside. They never had an episode where the food had spoiled.  When you ask the right person the right questions, the past opens to you.

Avoiding Digital Resources

Contemplate for a moment if you can, the airing of the original episode of “Roots.” After people watched the series, many gained a desire to research their own ancestry.  Imagine how difficult it was to access records which were not online and organize research without flash drives and cloud storage. Imagine the paper!

Today after the airing of the reimagined series of “Roots,” many more people developed a desired or renewed previous attempts to discover their ancestors. How much different is the experience today with new technology? How does new technology affect accuracy of research and time spent locating records?

So much is available to us today. It can be overwhelming.  Avid researchers who began long ago feel the same way. If you feel challenged by technology on your genealogy journey, contact us (link), for guidance.

We will discuss more of the common mistakes made by family historians in the next post.

Sharpen the Saw

Did we mention a pitfall that you had not thought of previously? Did you unknowingly make one of the mistakes above? Share your words of wisdom in the Facebook thread for this post. We want to hear about your experience. Let’s see if you can guess other mistakes before our next post!