Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for Family Historians

1. Backup. Backup. Backup. There are so many available options now and there’s simply no excuse for losing data. See

2. Make a vow not to believe everything you read on Internet. It is a wonderful facility but for accurate family history follow up with original sources.

3. Bear in mind that even primary sources may not always be accurate and that ancestors often lied – or concealed the truth, if you prefer.

4. Make a note of all your sources while you’re conducting your research. Back these up.
It will save time and frustration later on.

5. If you join a mailing list, first lurk for a while to get a feel for typical posts. When submitting a post be as clear as you can and especially choose an informative subject heading giving name, date and location – not a pathetically vague ‘Can you help?’

6. If you are tracing South African ancestors, remember that NAAIRS, the SA National Archives online index, is just that – an index, a resource locator to be used in conjunction with other sources. If you do not find a reference to your ancestor on NAAIRS it isn’t the end of the world.

7. Avoid any attempt to make facts fit the accepted family version of the family history: clear your mind of bias or sentimentality and go methodically from the known to the unknown, acquiring documentary evidence of events.

8. Identify your goal and stick to it. Are you intending to write a family history narrative? Write it as you research in the form of a newsletter to interested family members. That’s one way of reducing a challenging task to manageable proportions.

9. Be realistic: don’t try to cover too many lines at once.

10. Get out of the aimless habit of being distracted by irrelevant material simply because it looks interesting. This is one of the curses of internet and wastes precious time.

Tollgate, Durban, built 1866. Mr Bird was official keeper of the toll. Price: 6d.

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