Genealogy Do-Over: Golden Rules of Genealogy

As we gear up for the Genealogy Do-Over starting on 2 January 2015, what are your "golden rules" for genealogy - what best practices would you recommend?

As you get ready for the Genealogy Do-Over to begin on 2 January 2015, you might want to get a head-start on one topic: Setting Base Practices and Guidelines (see Schedule of Topics for the complete list).

I like the term “golden rules” because the term invokes the spirit of The Golden Rule and focuses not just on my own research practices, but also on how I interact with other genealogists.

The Golden Rules of Genealogy

One technique that I use to come up with any list of practices is to look at them as recommendations: what key practices would I tell a new genealogist are absolutely necessary for success in tracing your roots?

A recent example is the 27 Golden Rules of Genealogy as put forth by Australian genealogist and blogger Alona Tester. She has sorted her list by Do’s and Don’ts and Alona covers many areas upon which most genealogists would agree.

Another example is a list that I put forth in my recent e-book 500 Best Genealogy & Family History Tips – 2015 Edition, entitled Genealogy Rules to Live By:

1. There is No Easy Button in Genealogy. You will work hard to find your ancestors. Genealogy will require more than passion; it will require skills, smarts and dedication. Don’t believe the hype of instant hints, smart matches and shaky leaves. If it were that easy, the journey of discovering our roots would have little or no meaning.

2. Research from a Place of “I Don’t Know.” Your genealogy research will likely run counter to your cherished family stories. It will upend your preconceived notions about certain events and people. It will change the way you think about your ancestors. This can only happen if you research with an open mind and take off the blinders.

3. Track Your Work and Cite Your Sources. When I started out in genealogy, I’ll admit I was a name collector and would “dump” almost any name into my database. Years later, I am crossing out entire branches of a tree that never really should have been “grafted” on to mine. Use a research log, track your work, cite your sources, and analyze data before it is entered into any software or online family tree program.

4. Ask for Help. The genealogy community is populated with people of all skill levels and areas of expertise, most of whom want to assist others. There are no stupid questions; we all started as beginners. There is no right way to ask. Post a query on Facebook or ask a question during a webinar or email your favorite genealogy rock star.

5. You Can’t Edit a Blank Page. Which means: you have to start in order to have something to work with. That project you keep putting off, like publishing your family history, won’t complete itself. Commit yourself to move from “obsession” to “reality.” Remember: A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.

6. Work and Think Like Your Ancestors. While I’m not sure about your ancestors, mine were resourceful and developed tools and skills to get what they wanted. They were not “educated” per se, but they had “street smarts” and knew where to go so they could learn new things. Also make sure you have a plan; my ancestors didn’t just wake up one day and on a whim decide to come to America and make a better life. They had a plan, they had a network of people to help them, and they made it happen.

7. You Do Not Own Your Ancestors. Researching your roots can create emotional connections to not only your ancestors, but to the actual research itself. Many people become “possessive” of their ancestors and fail to realize that a 3rd great-grandparent is likely the ancestor of hundreds of others. You can’t take your research or your ancestor with you when you die; take time to share your research and be open to differences in information and research when collaborating with others.

8. Be Nice. The Genealogy Community is a Small Place. While there are millions of people searching for ancestors, genealogists worldwide have developed a community with relatively few degrees of separation. Whether it is online in a Facebook group or in-person at genealogy conference, it is likely you’ll already know someone. Being “genealogy nice” is not fake; the connections with other researchers tend to be deep and genuine. We know that all of our roots are interlocked and a genealogist can’t always go it alone.

9. Give and Be Abundant. Exchange information freely with other researchers; don’t hold data “close” to you or exchange it in lieu of something else. Most genealogists who have heard me speak know my own story of abundance: Don’t let your hand keep a tight grip on information. Let it go. Once your hand is free, it can be open and ready to receive the next good thing coming your way.

What Are Your Golden Rules of Genealogy?

Are you ready to come up with your own list of Golden Rules? Since all advice is auto-biographical (it is based on your own experience), look back at your past failures and successes and come up with your own list. When creating your list, you may want to divide it into sub-groups such as:

  • Required
  • Important
  • Optional

Would you be willing to share them with others who are doing the Genealogy Do-Over in 2015? One option is to post them at your own genealogy blog or post them at the Genealogy Do-Over Group on Facebook.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over: Schedule of Topics

The Genealogy Do-Over starts on Friday 2 January 2015 - here is a list of topics to be covered as we go "all in" with our genealogy research. Are you in?

Below is the list of topics to be covered during the Genealogy Do-Over beginning 2 January 2015. As you review the topics please keep these things in mind:

  • This is a curated list based on a) my own experience as a genealogist, b) my experience as a genealogy educator, and c) information gathered from other genealogists online and in attendance at offline conferences and workshops.
  • The list is representative, in my opinion, of core areas of aptitude required for basic successful genealogical research. Your mileage may differ . . . meaning that your research habits and specific research projects may warrant different areas of concentration in terms of skill building.
  • Participants (and viewers) may agree or disagree with the topics or the order of the topics; feel free to add or remove topics that you feel are not relevant to your specific genealogy research project.
  • Each week, a post will appear here at GeneaBloggers covering the Genealogy Do-Over topics. Posts will include tips, advice and resources.

Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group and More

An interactive collaborative community for the Genealogy Do-Over has been created on Facebook: Those hoping to participate in the Genealogy Do-Over, and those just monitoring the group’s progress, are encouraged to join. Just like the entire Genealogy Do-Over program, there is no fee or “upcharge” for this collaborative environment.

Over the next week look for more added features to help you succeed in your Genealogy Do-Over.

Genealogy Do-Over Topics

(click each heading to go to the post for that topic)

Week 1 – 2-8 January 2015

  • Setting Previous Research Aside
  • Preparing to Research
  • Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

Week 2 – 9-15 January 2015

  • Setting Research Goals
  • Conducting Self Interview
  • Conducting Family Interviews

Week 3 – 16-22 January 2015

  • Tracking Research
  • Conducting Research

Week 4 – 23-29 January 2015

  • Managing Projects and Tasks
  • Tracking Searches

Week 5 – 30 January-5 February 2015

  • Building a Research Toolbox
  • Citing Sources

Week 6 – 6-12 February 2015

  • Evaluating Evidence
  • Reviewing Online Education Options

Week 7 – 13-19 February 2015

  • Reviewing Genealogy Database Software
  • Digitizing Photos and Documents

Week 8 – 20-26 February 2015

  • Conducting Collateral Research
  • Reviewing Offline Education Options

Week 9 – 27 February-5 March 2015

  • Conducting Cluster Research
  • Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Week 10 – 6-12 March 2015

  • Reviewing DNA Testing Options
  • Organizing Research Materials – Digital

Week 11 – 13-19 March 2015

  • Reviewing Social Media Options
  • Building a Research Network

Week 12 – 20-26 March 2015

  • Sharing Research
  • Reviewing Research Travel Options

Week 13 – 27 March-3 April 2015

  • Securing Research Data
  • Reviewing the Journey

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Announcing the Genealogy Do-Over

Announcing the Genealogy Do-Over - the 2015 educational initiative at GeneaBloggers - where you do get to go home again . . . and start over.

Today I’m making a big announcement: Me and genealogy are parting ways. Done. Finished. Game over.

Have you ever said to yourself, “That’s it! I’ve had it and it just isn’t worth it anymore!” Well, have you? Sort of like the character Howard Beale in Network when he says, live on air, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

My Past Genealogy Research Frustrates Me!


Before you think that I’m leaving the genealogy community or closing down my genealogy business, let me clarify what I mean by leaving: Starting January 2nd, I’m setting my 20+ years of genealogy research aside and starting over. From scratch.

Seriously. How many times have you thought about doing the same thing? Did you start your research the same way I did, by just collecting names, grabbing stuff from other online trees, or pasting text into your genealogy software? Lately, has the prospect of going back and citing sources and proving facts and evidence brought you down and ruined your genealogy buzz? Do you throw up your hands and say, “I give up!” only to return to the same review and edit process days or weeks later?

If you’re like me, you need a genealogy makeover. Better yet, a Genealogy Do-Over. That’s what I’m calling this journey upon which I’m embarking in 2015. And I want you to come along.

Genealogy Do-Over: A New Journey of Genealogical Discovery

journey 02

Here is the short summary of Genealogy Do-Over: I set aside everything* related to my genealogy research including notebooks, papers, and even digitized files and my genealogy database files and START OVER. I’m hitting the reset button. I’m allowing myself to have a do-over! (* certain items such as vital records ordered and paid for or research gathered on long-distance trips can be retained).

Since I started my initial research, much has changed in the areas of genealogy research methodology and education. I now realize the need to collect facts and track them properly, including the use of source citations. I now understand the process of analyzing evidence and proving facts to reach a conclusion. In essence, I know a lot more about the “process” of genealogical research and I want to put it to use.

This is not to say that I haven’t been following proven guidelines when it comes to finding family history. For my research clients (mostly pro bono), I actually employ all the methods advocated by many in the genealogy community. However, when it comes to my own research from years ago, I’m not walking the walk . . . I’m just talking the talk.

It isn’t always easy to “walk backwards” and review each and every bit of information gathered over the years. Instead, I want to do more than re-walk a trodden path: I want to head out from the same starting point and see where the journey takes me this time. I’ll have better tools, better knowledge and be better equipped for each twist and turn. And again, I encourage you to join me on this journey.

The Genealogy Do-Over journey is constructed of 13 mileposts or journey markers which are laid out over 13 weeks. You can choose to pace yourself differently. You can even decide to drop some of the less important tasks and add your own. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are on a firm footing to finding your ancestors.

A short synopsis of my planned route (a full schedule will be announced soon):

  • Take inventory of what I have, box up the physical items and set them aside.
  • Move all digital genealogy files into a HOLD folder.
  • Gather tools to research.
  • Set research goals.
  • Start with my own knowledge and write it down.
  • Start tracking research.
  • Interview family members.
  • And more!

And then, week by week, continue with my research, add more skills and areas of focus including citing sources, tracking searches, building a research toolbox, creating an educational plan, researching offline as well as online, and more.

By the end of the 13 weeks I hope to have completed a review of a firm foundation in genealogy and family history research skill building. I realize that some focus areas may differ; anyone along for the journey has the freedom to add or remove content. This program has to work for you and should not be something that you dread each week or that you find you are working against.

How Much is a Ticket?

Genealogy Do-Over Tickets

There is no price. A journey that could very well revolutionize the way you’ve been doing genealogy research is priceless.

The fact is that there is no cost to using the Genealogy Do-Over program. There will be weekly blog posts here at GeneaBloggers outlining each week’s tasks and I’ll post my own personal progress as well. In addition, there will be free webinars (like this one at Legacy Family Tree), a boot camp on using a research log, and even incentives such as prizes related to a specific week’s topic. I may even publish another free e-book!

You’re Invited – You Get a Genealogy Do-Over Too


What I want most is a collaborative community effort to re-examine the way in which each of us has personally pursued our genealogical research. I intend to be honest with myself without beating myself up. I want to feel the joy of looking at one small fact and perhaps realizing that I never looked at it from all angles. I want the discipline of not following a possible lead just because it shakes or makes more noise than other leads.

Most of all, I want to be open to all possibilities on my journey of genealogical self-discovery and to enjoy that journey. This means researching with a plan, with a purpose, with sound practices and with the support of my fellow researchers. I don’t intend to make this journey again. Genealogy Do-Over is my chance to get it right.

So stay tuned, watch for a new domain – – and look for more announcements before the January 2, 2015 start date!

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee