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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Embracing My Mistakes: Why I Am Participating in the "Genealogy Do-Over" in 2015


Hey world, I'm not perfect, and neither is my genealogy. But, I'm getting a chance to be better in 2015, and it is called the "Genealogy Do-Over."

Image Credit: Thomas MacEntee

When my colleague and friend, Thomas MacEntee, first informed me of his plans to launch a 13-week Genealogy Do-Over, on 2 January 2015, (please read his post on Geneabloggers), I immediately said, “I’m in!”

I never intended to become a genealogist.  When I began exploring my family history more than 25 years ago, I thought that the process would simply be a means to an end.  I was focused on being a writer, studying for my Master of Fine Arts Degree in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and I needed a topic for my thesis. Enter genealogy. I began asking my mother questions about my grandparents and my Slovak/Rusyn heritage. And so it began. [For more information, read my post The Accidental Genealogist from 2 July 2006]. I wrote my thesis about my grandmother’s immigration story, and eventually turned my thesis into a book, Three Slovak Women.

Three Slovak Women. Image Credit: Lisa Alzo

When I began exploring my roots, genealogy was pretty much a solitary activity.  I didn't know how or where to start, and I couldn't Google the answer. There was no Ancestry.com, no FamilySearch website, and no Ellis Island Database. Because there was no World Wide Web, I spent long hours in libraries and traveling to repositories, writing letters/requests for records, and chasing down relatives to interview.  Eventually I connected with a few other genealogists thanks to queries in publications and by joining the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International. I didn't have a genealogy database (I did my Pedigree charts by hand). I fumbled my way through the research, winging it as I went along. I made my share of mistakes, including blindly collecting names, buying too much into family lore, and neglecting to cite my sources. Now I have an opportunity to for a "Take Two."  


Why Do the Do-Over?

Why would I want to put aside 25 years of research to start again? Well, I haven’t lost my mind, and it is not because I desire to “follow the crowd.” Here are my personal reasons for wanting to make a fresh start with my genealogy. 

1. Accountability.  Recognizing all of the errors I made as a “newbie,” I view this exercise as a cathartic process during which I embrace my mistakes and learn from them to become an even better genealogist.

2. See the Holes in My Research. With all of the starts and stops in my research over 25 years I have more holes than I can count.  With more thorough and thoughtful research practices, I hope to fill them in. With a research log I will be able to keep better track of what, when, where, and how I search.

3. Documentation and Proof Analysis. When I first began my research, I had to document the key sources I consulted to prepare
 a bibliography for my thesis. Did I record source citations for every single document or piece of information I found?. No (I only recorded those that made it in to the final document).  Did I use the proper format as designated for genealogy? No. Did I conduct a thorough analysis of each and every record?  Not always.

4. Gain a Deeper Understanding of My Ancestors. I was never about just gathering names, dates, and places.  I always wanted “the story.”  And I did get the “stories” for many of my ancestors, but some of them still remain a mystery.  I want to learn more about those ancestors. I would like to develop a better knowledge of who they were, and as a result, have a deeper understanding of who I am.
5. Walking the Walk. As a genealogy writer, instructor, and lecturer, I share research tips, techniques, and advice.  My audience often includes many beginners.  I want to be a good example to those who read my articles, attend my seminars and webinars, or take my courses.


One of the best aspects of this Genealogy Do-Over is that you can make the experience your own. There is a schedule of topics that outlines suggested tasks for each week, and an interactive collaborative group on Facebook for connecting and sharing with others who are participating in the 13-week journey, but nothing is mandatory.

If I Knew Then, What I Know Now…

My ancestry goes back to Eastern Europe. When I began genealogy, finding information “over there” was challenging and difficult. My choices were to: 1) Travel to Slovakia myself (something I was not in a position to do at the time, but have since done—see “Sojourn in Slovakia”); 2) Hire a researcher (which can get expensive), or 3) Rely on the microfilms that could be ordered from the Family History Library.  While I was able to do option #3, and view church records from my ancestral villages, there were a limited number of records available.  Now, most of the records I previously viewed are online and there are also new collections that have been digitized and put online at FamilySearch and other websites.

Documenting My Journey

While I won’t be sharing publicly every step of my own journey, I will focus my posts on some of the common myths and misconceptions in genealogy and how I worked through them. 

I am preparing in advance for the Genealogy Do-Over by setting up a new database in my genealogy software program, customizing my research log template, and creating a special notebook in Evernote where I will store notes, and other important documents and materials. 


I want to make 2015 my best genealogy year ever. I can’t wait to get started!


Copyright 2014, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

2 comments:

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Great post Lisa. I can empathise with so many aspects as I also started 25+ years ago..such a different experience. I look forward to the outcome of your do-over.

Claire Butler said...

Love this!