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Seven Habits of Highly Effective Genealogists

Summary of presentation at the 2012 Spring Conference of the FxGS
By Christine Foster Meloni

Presenter: Dear Myrtle

Dear Myrtle was a very popular presenter. She was not only very informative but also very entertaining. Here is a brief summary of one of her presentations.

1. Document everything.

This is a no-brainer but hardly anyone does it. The key is to document everything at the outset. Going back later to document is much too tedious and oftentimes impossible.

You are first and foremost documenting for yourself so that you do not waste time doing the same things over and over again.  You are doing it secondarily for others.

Dear Myrtle says, “Leave a big audit trail supporting full disclosure for present and future discussion.”

2. Start filing right away.

Do you have stuff on a box full of flash sticks? And you can never find what you are looking for? Dear Myrtle seemed to hit the nail right on the head for most participants. Her advice? Have a flashstick for each ancestor. Scan all of the relevant documents, photos, and notes for that ancestor and attach them.

Then use a Dropbox in the cloud. If your computer crashes, you won’t lose anything. How should you organize your folders? One idea is to have a folder for each surname. Some people, however, have a folder for each location.

3. Learn from the experts.

Pay attention to what the experts are doing and join them. The Fairfax Genealogical Society has internationally-known experts. Roots Tech Live offers useful advice. Attend Genea’s Webinars. There are over 200 of them.

4. Adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Go to for the Elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard Contribution to Credibility.

Build a case. Evaluate the reliability of your information. Clearly state your conclusions. Keep erroneous information such as dates. Report what you find and evaluate it. Explain for yourself and for others why it is wrong. Prove it!

5. Use technology wisely.

Remember that not everything is available online. Don’t give up if you don’t find something online. What is available is only the tip of the iceberg.

Take advantage of google books ( and World Cat.

Use GenSmarts. It is artificial intelligence. It gives you advice on where to look for data that you are missing.

Leave your computer and go to places like courthouses where you can find valuable  probate records.

6. Consider the archivist’s  or librarian’s point of view.

Think and document as they would.

7. Share with others.

Let your family know what you are doing. Post online. For example, create a blog. It is an easy webpage to create. Post photos of people, hobbies, heirlooms, etc.

Write your personal family history and make copies. Put your genealogies in a place where those “future researcher” cousins are likely to find it. Where?

Online:; Roots; your family’s website, blog, or genealogy wiki

Offline: library in town or county where your ancestors lived; state library where your ancestors lived; national library; family history library; Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Reading Room; libraries of historical societies.