The Internet is a fine aid to help in tracing your family tree. Unfortunately, a lot of what you will find as far as genealogy is concerned, is often badly researched or just downright fictitious. Many UK researchers will aim to trace their tree back to Royalty, or William the Conqueror, which for the average person just isn’t possible to do. Likewise, many USA researchers will want a link to one of the 102 original passengers or 25-30 crew on the Mayflower voyage in 1620. The Internet is littered with completely fraudulent lineages-some deliberately so. Be extremely cautious of any claims that appear to take your tree back hundreds of years “at a stroke”.
Start from what you know now and work backwards. Don’t start with a famous person who might share your surname and try to find a relationship to yourself.
If you subsequently publish your tree on the Internet, be aware that it is seen as “fair game” by some people who will copy it, and reproduce it in their own tree. When it comes to people who are still alive, remember that many people will not want personal details of themselves posted onto the Internet. There are potential identity theft issues. It is a common courtesy not to publish names, dates, addresses or photos of any live person without their permission. It’s possible to password protect many sites so that live people do not appear unless the viewer has the password.
Show extreme caution on any Website offering you Coats of Arms. Most are nonsense.
Show even more caution if offered books with the title of something like “The World History of the surname Brown”. The chances are that you will end up with a lot of useless information that is meaningless in genealogy terms and probably lifted straight out of a telephone directory.
Don’t accept family legend as fact. Check all facts, irrespective of where they came from.
Don’t limit yourself to just one spelling of a name. You have to remember that the further you trace your tree, the higher probability of encountering relatives who couldn’t read or write, and therefore the greater chance of a variation. Other reasons why a name may change could include immigrants with unpronounceable surnames, names that become unpopular. (possibly German sounding ones at the outbreak of war in 1914 or 1939) A great deal of “lateral thinking” is sometimes required. For example if you are looking for the surname Simms, you might have to also check, Sims, Syms, Symes, Simes, Simmes, Sams, Sim etc
Don’t forget to document your sources. This is very important. Aim for primary sources where possible. The fact that you’ve seen something on an Internet Family Tree isn’t a source in itself.
Sometimes it’s not possible to come to a definitive conclusion on something – at least not at this moment in time in your research. Make sure you document your concerns and what the problem actual was so that you can come back to it later.
Don’t assume. For example, you might look at a Census and find the family you are looking for, and there would be the husband, wife and two or three children. However the children may not necessarily be of both partners. Either the husband or wife could have been married before and have children from this earlier marriage. Try not to jump to conclusions-however tempting.
Don’t rush it. You will make mistakes anyway. We all do. Take your time.
Be careful not to skip a generation. Particularly where a naming pattern follows through several generations. For example, a father with the first name Robert names his son Robert, and this son names his son Robert etc. If you aren’t careful you’ll end up naming someone as the Father whereas he’s really the Grandfather.
If you use a family tree programme, make sure you do a back up on a regular basis. At some time your computer is going to crash, and you don't want to lose all your material. Back up to an external hard drive, a CD-ROM, a Memory Stick, or export your tree on to one of the Internet sites (you can often make the details completely private if that's what you want to do)
As an alternative, and possibly as well as one of the other means of backing up your tree, it's worth using one of the "Cloud Internet" storage systems. There are several systems available. One such system which allows you up to 50GB of free storage is a compamy called A Drive. All you do is download your file to "A Drive"-and thats it-you can virtually forget about it.
Don’t forget to gently write the names of the people on the back of photographs. There’s nothing worse than a nice family photo that you don’t know who it’s of. If you find it easier, type the names onto a sticky address label and stick it on the back of the photo.
Don't assume that however unusual a name is that there couldn't be another person with the same name. The chances are that there are several different people with the same name-so be careful you get the right one !