Friday, October 25, 2013

Learning: How to Be Wrong

So when you hit the online scene for genealogy, you will see all sorts of tutorials and guides for how to do things the "right" way. Where to start on your German research, a YouTube video on using Evernote for genealogy, a seminar on source citations and why you should care about them--the list goes on and on.

The purpose of the Learning posts to is cover these sorts of topics, but there was one topic I wanted to cover first. One that doesn't get a lot of attention because it's not really the sort of thing you go looking for.

How to be wrong.

There is a right way to be wrong. And, I would argue that this is one of the most important lessons you learn as a genealogist. The sooner you learn it, the better off you'll be--and it's a lesson that some people simply never learn. And, one could argue, that a lot of the tutorials that exist online would be totally unnecessary if we were better at admitting it when we're wrong. So today, I'm gonna teach you how to do it.

Step 1: Acknowledge it

Here's a GIF that should help you if you don't know exactly what that looks like.

What you wrote, what you copied, what your grandmother said, the name spelling, the birthplace, the marriage date--whatever it is that you're holding onto as irrefutable fact--is wrong. And it is THAT piece of information that is screwing you up. You see a lot of talk about "Brick Walls" in genealogy. Paid genealogists develop entire seminars on these "brick walls," and people pay actual money to go to these seminars to be told they're wrong.

The admission of being wrong is always free. Correcting what you've done? Now that costs time and money, and that's usually what keeps us from admitting it to ourselves. But we all make mistakes, and most of the success we experience comes after we admit to ourselves that we were wrong about something. And personally, I find it better to be my own best editor than to pay someone else to be my critic.

Step 2: Think. Also known as "Don't Panic."

My husband and I were driving home from San Antonio, which is a journey of about 3 days. We were planning on stopping at several cemeteries in Virginia and Tennessee along the way. The journey was long, we were both cranky and tired, and by the time we got to the cemeteries we had already pushed our newlywed patience to its limits.

When we arrived at the first cemetery, to my horror, not a single name in the place was one that I recognized. I had known that there were two Brogan cemeteries in Tennessee. I even mentioned it to my husband, which had precipitated in him asking me, repeatedly, if I had the right information. He even suggested that we bring both locations, "Just in case."

Just in case nothing, I thought. I'm always right. 

So I did what no genealogist should ever do in similar circumstances. I started to panic. I got mad and threw a fit, and cursed that ever a place existed with no cell reception to correct my mistake. Fortunately for me, my husband is as patient with me as he is awesome. He pulled over to a funeral home on the main road, who just happened to have a book on the very cemetery I needed. They gave us some new directions and we continued on our journey.

Because of the delay, we ran into bad weather and could only stop for 1 of the 3 cemeteries I had planned. And I may never get another chance to go back to that part of Tennessee because it is extremely remote. The time it took to correct my mistake was far exceeded by the time I wasted panicking. And the only reason I panicked is because I couldn't admit to myself that I was wrong.

So let that be a lesson to you. Don't throw a fit. The only person you're going to hurt if you do is yourself.

Step 3: Get Educated

Kablam! Elimination!
Lack of Education!
We all make mistakes because we don't know exactly what we're doing. Sometimes we just make it up as we go along, and we forget that we're bluffing. We start to believe ourselves, and it takes someone who knows a lot more than we do to show us how much we still have to learn. And there are many resources in genealogy that help us develop our skills so we don't have to make things up anymore.

Identify exactly what you did wrong, and figure out how to fix it. You're the one in the best position to do it because you care, you've already been working on the problem, and if you don't then who will? Sometimes it takes years and a lot of different theories before we find the right answer. You may even need to take a break until more records are available. The only wrong thing you can do is give up. and both have learning centers. They host videos and tutorials that can helps us work through the exact problems we are having. YouTube is also a great place to look for this sort of instruction.
There are a lot of other videos and channels too, but these are the ones I have found to be the most helpful to me. You can also look for solutions to specific questions, like doing Irish genealogy or different methods for sorting your information. Some of the simplest solutions I've found to my most complicated research problems I've found on YouTube.

Here are a few other sites you may find helpful as well:
  • Brigham Young University's Family History Library, not to be confused with the regular Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
  • BYU Family History Training Center
  • BYUtv does broadcasts, rebroadcasts, and streaming of all kinds of genealogy programming.
  • FamilySearch Wiki--Looking for a record from a specific place? Find the place in the Wiki and they'll tell you what records are available and where to find them. They were the first place I looked to start working on my ancestors from the Caribbean.
  • Google Books--Search by location and surname. You never know what you might find.
If you are stuck beyond all stuck, you may need to ask for help. We take help requests here, more info under the submit tab up top. Also try to look for other researchers working on your same lines. The more you share your family tree on sites like,, WikiTrees, Mocavo, and connect with other researchers on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, the more likely you are to find someone researching the same family you are. Or at least someone who can help you out who has been stuck in a similar way.

Step 4: Practice those victory dances for when you're right next time!

Work it!

Happy researching!