Genealogy is fun and it gives us a greater sense of purpose and meaning. If you've just started your family history journey, then congratulations! You're in for a wild and rewarding ride. Our ancestors weren't as boring as we thought they were.
Beginning genealogists often get started because they have a question about their family or they want to prove a tale that's been passed down for generations. All genealogists starting out have eager expectations and common reactions. Genealogy can be a wild ride. Here's some beginner's advice for the trip:
You're probably not related to that famous person.
About half of the research issues, cases and queries I receive come with the belief that a person's family tree includes a connection to a famous historical figure. I've yet to find a famous ancestor for anyone. Maybe you will, but you should lower your expectations. Even if you don't have a branch of notoriety, chances are that your "regular" ancestors have some fascinating stories of their own. Go forth and find them.
Great-great grandma probably wasn't an Indian princess.
Many people claim to have Native American blood in their veins, even the tiniest bit because of stories passed down by grandma about that one unknown ancestor who was in that one tribe. Without some sort of documentation or specific details, it is very hard to make a connection to Native American heritage. If you're confident and want to give it a go, research backwards starting with you, using traditional genealogy resources. This will help you when you reach the point in your ancestral timeline to search Native American resources. Oh and if you are doing this so you can join a tribe and reap financial benefit, it doesn't work that way.
Slow your roll. Do more sideways research.
It is very tempting to collect names and move back in your family tree generation after generation. However, if you do it that way, you're going to get stuck at some point. Take the time to do more "sideways" research instead of moving back in time immediately. Even if you know the birth/marriage/death dates and parents of great-grandpa, study the other records of his life. Censuses, city directories, church records, news articles, etc. all tell a bigger story and they may provide clues to questions down the line. Search all your ancestors' siblings, too. Sometimes the person you're looking for was living in another person's house. Also, be sure to research the spinster aunts. They might be alone, but their records often hold good clues. Don't hurry through genealogy. Enjoy the ride. You'll be glad you did.
All houses have dark closets.
Family history research is very rewarding, but it has it's dark spots, too. Be prepared to discover not-so-pleasant facts about your ancestors. They were human just like we are. Also know that all families have these secrets...even the horrible, unspeakable events. You don't have to publicly broadcast what you discover and record, but you don't have to be ashamed of it either. It's history, plain and simple.
Talk to the old people. Do it now.
The elders in your family have the knowledge, experiences and information you need to search your family history. Do not wait until Christmas to gather information. Call up family members and chat. It may take several calls to get the memory gears going, but trust me they will get going. Ask multiple people the same questions and you'll get more perspectives and details about your ancestors. Bring photos to family gatherings to refresh memories. Don't forget to label those photos because it's very easy to forget names.
I cannot stress how important it is to talk to the old people. Every genealogist has the "if I only asked sooner" regret. This is your chance to avoid that while you spend time with your relatives and build your family tree.
Hopefully this reality check doesn't deter you. Famous ancestor or not, your family tree holds exciting stories of triumph, tragedy, courage and the occasional criminal. Do genealogy for your ancestors, but also do it for yourself. The stories you discover will shape your sense of self and give roots to your life's purpose. Plus you might have a horse thief or bootlegger in the tree and wouldn't that make a good story?