The fatal flaw with discovering your ancestry

Genealogy absolutely fascinates me.  I first started getting into discovering my own ancestry years ago, but quickly lost interest.  It wasn’t until last year when I decided to get the DNA test offered through Ancestry.com that this passing interest became a full-blown hobby.  Now that I have some research experience under my belt, I wanted to kick off what will undoubtedly be several posts about genealogy by sharing one particular challenge for novice genealogists that concerns me.

Several years ago, I started building my family tree on Ancestry.com.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time and being a rather impatient person in some ways led to my first mistake: I tried to find a “quick” way to achieve my goal and built a huge family tree simply by using the function that allows you to review and save entries from other people’s family trees.  I thought, “Hey – it’s on this many other people’s family trees, so it must be right!”  This eventually led to a ridiculously sized family tree with ancestors dating back well into the BC’s.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Ancestry.com is a fabulous, user-friendly service that contains a wealth of information.  I also do see the value in being able to look at other people’s family trees.  In fact, this function recently allowed me to track down a distant cousin of mine – a connection that has yielded some really wonderful results.  But, people should only be using this function to find POTENTIAL leads.  This function should, by no means, be used to actually build your family tree.

Why do I say this?  Let’s consider what we are able to do on Ancestry.com: We can build a family tree – that is obvious.  How do we generally start this?  By manually entering the name and details of ourselves or a relative.  When you add a person to your tree, Ancestry.com doesn’t check to make sure that entry is correct or accurate.  You could, quite literally, make up a completely false person and enter it as your ancestor’s father.

This is the fatal flaw and where the danger lies for other novice genealogists.  If your family tree’s settings are listed as public (which most are initially set to), other people who may be researching your ancestor will come across your fake entry for their father.  If they don’t know what they’re doing, they can then use this function to add this entry to their own family tree.  Over time, more and more people will do this and spread this false record as gospel.

This is exactly the situation I ran into my first time building a family tree.  I finally got to a point where I was waaaaaaaaaaay back in time and the birth dates listed for parents were hundreds of years different from those of their alleged children before I cottoned onto the fact that this wasn’t going to be acccurate.  Frustrated that I couldn’t pinpoint where things went wrong, I left it for several years.  When I picked it up again last year, I went back and deleted the most recent ancestor in each branch that I couldn’t confirm with other sources and started again.  (Unfortunately, this is flawed as well because it only deletes that link – not the ancestors listed before it as you would think.  So those false entries still exist out there until you go in and manually delete every single one.  Ugh!)

The moral of this story: When commencing any genealogical project, don’t take a lead at face value.  If you want to use the function that searches other people’s family trees, go for it!  As I mentioned before, it can be a useful tool.  Just don’t use it to actually add anyone to your own family tree.  Have a look at that person in other people’s family trees and see what sources THEY have used before adding that person to their own family tree.  If you don’t see any sources listed or can only see that they’ve used other people’s trees as the source, move on and start manually doing your own research.  Here’s an example of what you DON’T want to see – an entry where the only source to account for its credibility is other Ancestry.com members’ family trees.

BadRecord

What are credible sources?  I’m still learning myself, but here’s what I do know: For your closest ancestors, there should be some sort of official records available such as census forms and birth, marriage and death records.  As you go farther back (particularly in Europe), many church records are quite accurate.  Going back further still, you will undoubtedly run into the Millennium File and GenealogieOnline which track the lineage of European nobility and royalty.  There’s a fair bit of debate as to the accuracy of the Millennium File due to who it was built for (the Church of Latter Day Saints) and why, but according to Dutch genealogist Yvette Hoitink GenealogieOnline may be a better starting resource if you make sure to check the references they provide on the site before taking it at face value.  Also if you’re dealing with European nobility and royalty, chances are there are plenty of historical records that provide information on that person’s lineage and how accurate (or improbable) it may be.  As a rule of thumb, I generally stop tracking any lineage at royalty because there are countless historical records available developed by much more skilled historians than I.

Happy researching!

When you’re not enough

In case you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, I’ll throw out a disclaimer that this is not going to be a cheerful post.  If you’re after sunshine and roses, it might be time to read one of the other blogs you follow and come back to mine later.  While I could give you a rousing rendition of “Everything is Awesome!” I did promise to be frank with my discussions on here regardless of the topic.  So, here I go.

Job hunting is one of the worst parts of life.  I am absolutely convinced of the accuracy of this statement.  Think about it: You are constantly living with a sense of instability because really – you have no idea when you’ll find something.  Even if you do find something, it could go to hell in a hand-basket because you just don’t know what you’re getting into.  You have a limited amount of time to review very few (and sometimes non-existent) resources in order to gain an understanding of the organisations you are applying to, and you have to be “on” whilst writing cover letters and attending interviews.  The entire process is exhausting.

All of that aside, I think the hardest part is when you’re just not enough.  Now, I’m not exactly a rookie in my profession.  I have several years of valuable experience under my belt (despite not yet having that piece of paper that says “degree” on it).  I also have a keen desire to move up in the world.  My goal is to one day become CEO.  I feel with my whole heart that I am ready to step into a more senior role and I have so much potential to be a great manager.

But, I can’t quite get there.  I am missing a certain level of experience in a particular skill that most organisations in my sector want their managers to have.  What’s worse is that it is something I know I could do and that I could do extremely well.  Unfortunately, confident isn’t going to cut it.  This was ultimately the reason I didn’t get a management position I interviewed for months ago, and it’s the reason I didn’t get another management position I applied for recently.

So, the old confidence has taken yet another beating.  I don’t want to give up trying because you never know what will happen if you simply try.  At the same time, it can be rather soul-crushing to constantly put yourself out there and continually fall short.  Sometimes (like today) I have to rely solely on my faith that things will turn out okay in the end – that my skills and expertise ARE valuable, and that someone WILL see my potential and eventually snap me up.

Don’t worry.  I’m not giving up.  I’m ultimately the kind of person who, if you tell me I don’t have the ability to do something, I’ll say, “Watch me!” and make it happen.  I’ll give myself these few emo moments, but then I’ll wipe away the tears of frustration that currently adorn my eyelashes and…well…make it happen.

Cheers to all of the poor suckers out there that are in the same boat as I.  It’s a rocky SOB, but I know we’ll find the shore eventually.

How much is TOO much?

I’m originally from the USA.  While I have lived here for over a third of my life, I find that some things are a continued learning process.  Case in point: Your career.

Growing up, I was taught that you should always keep your personal life completely and utterly separate from your working life.  You go into work, do your job and you get out.  Period.  You may make “friends” in the office, but you heavily restrict what you reveal to them – never going into any sort of detail about your family, friends or beliefs.  I remember that my mother would never even attend work social functions, always making some excuse or another as to why she couldn’t go.

This is what I was taught to do, but I have since discovered that this is definitely not the norm in Australia.  Not only is your attendance at work functions expected, you simply cannot succeed without making friends with your colleagues.  And I don’t mean work friends – I mean going out to dinner and drinks, honest-to-God friends.  Obviously you still want to steer clear of office politics (which is kind of crazy because if you get personal, you’re automatically in it to a certain extent), but people actually become wary of you if you don’t participate at a social level in the workplace.

The same goes for when you’re seeking a job.  Employers no longer want to simply find someone with the right skills – it’s all about cultural fit.  “Why do you want to work for this company?”  “What unique perspective can you bring to my team?”

For the most part, I find this refreshing.  It’s so much more fun at work if you have someone you can relate to and banter with.  It’s also a lot easier to brainstorm and come up with amazing ideas in a cohesive team that has your back.  But at the same time, I often find myself feeling like I should revert back to how I was taught to conduct one’s work life.

This goes tenfold while looking for a new job, as I’m doing right now.  For example, I am very interested in applying for a position at a specific not-for-profit organisation.  One of the things that interests me about this role is that I have a first-hand understanding of a key social issue they work in and, therefore, empathy with the people they work with.  I believe this perspective would be a valuable asset to my application and while I want to highlight it, I can hear that pesky little American voice in my head yelling, “Too much information!  Don’t reveal that much of yourself!”  And I am genuinely scared to reveal this piece of information, even in a cryptic fashion because it will ultimately lead to questions whose answers you cannot evade.

So where do you draw the line?  How much IS too much information in this day, age and culture?  I’ll be damned if I know.  Until I either know the answer to my own question or, in the very least, know how much I am comfortable revealing in this instance, I’m going to take a break.  It’s about time for a cuppa anyway.

Who am I, anyway?

Writing the first post in a blog is, quite literally, the worst.  Even if you have a set blog theme or you’re writing for a specific business, the very first one is most likely going to suck.  I mean, what exactly do you write about?  Do you channel your AOL days and restrict it to an “A/S/L” style introduction, or do you go straight into developing content without context?  And even if you do choose to set the scene with a proper introduction, you tend to think to yourself as you’re writing, “Am I giving enough information so that they’ll understand my future posts?”  This vicious internal monologue inevitably leads to one of two conclusions: Either you write the longest blog post in the history of the world, or you give up blogging altogether.  (#thestruggleisreal)

So fuck it!  I am going to make an introductory post, and I will endeavour not to turn it into half a novel.  My name is Dev, I am a 30-something woman living in Melbourne, Australia.  I’m married without kids, American, morbidly obese, a marketing professional and a lover of beautiful places and things who appreciates history.

This scant information will, in no significant way, set you up for what you will read in subsequent posts.  How do I know this?  Because I have absolutely no idea what this blog is going to be.  It could (and probably will be) about my struggle to lose over half my body weight so I can have kids.  I’m sure genealogy will factor into this somewhere because of my recent work on my own family tree.  My random thoughts and feelings about being a mature age university student will undoubtedly make their way into this thing.

All I know is that, at this time in my life, I feel the need to write.  I’ve learned so much about myself and my family lately, and this has made me recognise importance of leaving a legacy.  Maybe this is mine.  I would love to think of this blog in so great of terms.  Regardless, I’m just going to see where this goes.