Monday, May 18, 2015

Ancestry Dot Com Made Me A Lazy Genealogist

It's true. I am a bit ashamed to admit it. Lazy. Not that I didn't know how to research outside of Ancestry, they just make it so darned easy to search "one and done". I'm a bit embarrassed that I fell into that trap, but now I'm coming clean.

When I was a newbie Ancestry was a BSO that, in my uneducated world was the "Great and Powerful Oz". EVERYTHING I needed was there, and oh-so-easy to access. Who needs records and proof when you have all these amazing family trees! Copy, click, done. Solved all my grandmother's Brick Walls in a matter of hours. Holla and High Five!

(I know many of you are laughing right about now. Slapping your thigh and saying "yeah, me too, been there, done that, got the mess to prove it")

I really cut my genealogical teeth when I tackled my paternal line. A great uncle had done a bit of
research, but for the most part I was sailing into uncharted territory. Ancestry was no help. Oh sure, there were census records, an occasional military record - but thankfully (really, the Genealogy Gods were working overtime on this one) not one single family tree! Not one! Alrighty then.

I dug in and got to work. I read over all the notes my dad had gathered over the years about his ancestors and plugged what I knew into a new tree. On Ancestry. I still like their ease-of-use style, for me it works. I utilized Family Search, I joined Yahoo Groups (this was pre-Facebook, btw), I used all the free and helpful little websites that I could find. I emailed genealogical societies, I wrote letters to cemeteries, I stalked living people with the surnames I was researching in the locations I was researching. I went "old school". And it worked! All my research was by my own hand. All the information I had obtained I could source. I was feeling mighty good.

High on my success with my paternal line, I ambitiously decided to revisit my maternal side.

Oh dear Lord. My mind was boggled. I saw the mess I had created with my clickophile ways and I wept. Overwhelmed, I walked away.

For several more years I dug deeper on my paternal line and just put the mess of my maternal line on the back burner for "someday".

Enter Thomas MacEntee and his Great Genealogy Do Over of 2015. "Someday" had arrived.

Never one to back away once the gauntlet has been thrown, I buckled in for the toughest genealogy ride of my life. And because one can not have too many challenges in their life at once, I also committed to the 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks writing challenge.

Now, getting back to the point of this post.

January 1, 2015. I began a mass execution of all the "ancestors" I had added to my grandmother's solid research, leaving just her work and the work I or my cousin had done that was provable. (Don't gasp - I did save a complete copy of the whole mess prior to the reaping "just in case".) I targeted my 52 ancestors writings on some of my grandmother's brick walls. And I let my Ancestry subscription expire. (I know, rogue move, now I am at the mercy of my own wits!)

At first I was frightened. And angry at Ancestry for being so expensive and having "all the records", until I gave myself a good talking to. Again thanks to Thomas MacEntee and the Do Over, I had a really nice tool kit of resources. I had many Facebook groups that I could post queries to, and I had the knowledge I had acquired from my research on my paternal side. I can DO this! The few resources/hints that popped up on my Ancestry tree (that are now hidden behind a pay wall) I am able to access merely by going to my public library. And I can even send the records home via email to be downloaded in their full glory! But that's not the lesson here.

IF I had still had a subscription to Ancestry this week while I was researching my 2nd great grandmother I may have stopped there. My grandmother had written a small bio on her that may well have been enough for me to write my blog post. Her parents were brick walls for my grandmother and there were really no record hints on Ancestry that were even correct. I had long ago turned off hints from other trees, but even looking at those showed a confusing mix of possibilities.

I went to Google and I posted on Facebook the two things I wanted clarification on prior to publishing my post and hit the motherload! I got just enough possible leads and confirmation that I was on the right track, to prompt me to dig deep into my Tool Kit and search, search, search. Not only did I get my answers, I got eight more generations of my family and busted one of my grandmother's brick walls! Church Lady dance ensued in the ol' Genealogy Cave!

And a humbled genealogist was reminded that there are no shortcuts. That good genealogy is "old school" genealogy. That this former member of the Look It Up Club almost failed to live by the motto "we never guess we look it up", or in this case quit looking if it's not on Ancestry.

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