In this series we’re asking family history experts from many backgrounds to answer 5 questions so that we can learn from their many years of experience.
Thank you Cyndi for taking the time to share your know-how with us, and for spending so many years dedicating your time and energy to helping family historians discover the resources they need.
1. If you could share just one piece of advice with fellow family historians, what would it be?
Get organized from the very start. Keep a consistent filing system that works across paper and digital files, including email labels, bookmarks, photos, etc. Keep a research notebook with sections for each surname and keep research plans and notes within. No slacking! It is so important to be organized in order to be productive and successful in your research.
2. What do you think is the biggest pitfall new family historians need to watch out for when conducting research?
The biggest pitfall is accepting information from sources that may not be reliable or accurate. We need to question and analyze each piece of data and each record and each source for the information found within the records. Indexes, transcriptions, abstracts, and extracts are not records. They are subject to human error or omission. The object should always be to get to the original record and original source whenever possible.
3. Can you share three of your favorite family history research resources?
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, FamilySearch.org, and Ancestry.com are the staples that everyone should use. Once you get into specific localities the favorite resources will differ. For example, in Virginia research the Library of Virginia is a must, and in New York research the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society is a must.
4. Aside from research resources, what’s the most important tool that you use as a genealogist?
My computer and a combination of the Internet, RootsMagic, Word, and Evernote are the most important tools I use as a genealogist. There is no one software program that covers all my needs for research, but these tools are the combination that work best for me.
5. Please tell us about your most exciting personal family history discovery.
My most exciting personal family history was learning about my 3rd great-grandfather, Xerxes Knox. He served in the 3rd Iowa Cavalry and was captured by the Confederate Army in Camden, Arkansas. He was marched on foot to Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas. After two attempts he successfully escaped the prison camp by being covered up in a dump cart. He returned to Union lines and then home. And after several months of research on all of this I had one of those moments. I realized that if this man had not made the choice to try to escape and had not been successful I would not exist today. He is just one of 32 third-great grandparents, 16 second-great grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 4 grandparents, and 2 parents, whose choices and life meant that I am who I am. He’s my hero.
Cyndi’s List is a comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online. You don’t want to miss it!
Read the other interviews in this series here.