The following are some basic genealogy truths that I have discovered along the way:
1. Document EVERYthing...knowing where a fact or detail came from is important in verifying information. Some sources are simply better and more accurate than others.
2. Consider all information to be suspect. Because something is on a computer screen or a piece of paper (even in a Bible) does not mean that the details are correct...i.e.:
A. Spelling...before the computer age, most people used phonetics to spell. Unfortunately spelling varied greatly as a result. When searching, looking for other spellings.
B. Using phonetics was also greatly affected by regional accents. Accents are not as common to us today in the United States, but they used to be very prominent.
C. Many people had poor math skills (at best) and couldn't calculate their age (or outright lied about their age.) A few people wrote down important birth and death dates in their family Bibles...unfortunately not enough people did and the ones that did, too few of the records survived.
D. Indices are only accurate in those rare instances where the stars align and you are looking for the same spelling and date information that the recorder and transcriber all agree upon. Old fashioned browsing (page by page and line by line) of records including census records does pay dividends.
3. People's names changed over time. Women in most countries almost universally changed their last name upon marriage. First names were often either initials or nicknames. Phonetics and literacy played a large role in the name changes.
4. Death and birth certificates were filled out by a next of kin that may or may not have the correct details concerning parents, birth dates, birth locations, etc. Accept the information from those records as simply possible truths.
5. Census takers were frequently not known for their legible penmanship. Likewise, government workers who photocopied original documents were obviously paid by the hour and not for the quality of their workmanship.
6. Always remember that family histories posted online contain as many inaccuracies as my own work...therefore treat them as hints, not facts. As much as it would be nice to believe that Aunt Jemima was married to our dearly departed Uncle Shrew, and someone else has even posted it is as a fact...search for the proof. Facts can be proven, hints, wishes or suggestions are just that...nothing more.
7. If you discover relatives in Missouri, Illinois or Utah that are clearly Mormons in the mid 19th century and practicing polygamy...run ... run fast! You'll tear your hair out trying to untangle the resulting mess. You have been warned. :-)
8. Find someone (anyone) to take ownership of your work upon your demise! My Mother's 2nd cousin inherited an old Civil War trunk full of diaries, letters and other records from my Great Grandfather's family. The cousin had owned the trunk for many years and in the 1950's was debating whether to destroy the contents or find someone to bequeath them to. I was very lucky when my Mother agreed to accept them and let me start to peruse them. The people who had kept these records safe for many many years had no idea who I was or that I might be interested in learning about their lives and our shared ancestry. As a youngster it intrigued me. It was the spark that has become my lifelong hobby and passion. So it is not important to me who the person is who will carry on my own work...it is enough for me to know that my youngest daughter has agreed to be that link in the chain.
9. A word about software. Find a software package that meets your needs and stick with it. Ask other family historians and friends for their recommendations. I was so frustrated when I first started to keep my records in a personal computer (PC) back in the early and mid-1980's that I resorted to writing my own software. I had tried virtually every commerically available genealogy software I could get my hands on. None met my needs entirely. Fortunately for me, someone else came along and did a much better job than myself in writing a functional software program to capture the data. The product I use today is called, The Master Genalogist™ (TMG) and it is produced by a company called Wholly Genes. It is flexible and meets nearly all of my needs. (Unfortunately the company discontinued support of TMG at the end of December 2014. The programs still function and there is a vast user community to assist with hiccups and work arounds.) In addition, I use a companion program called Second Site™ that allows me to use my genealogy database to create these web pages. Second Site is the best software and the developer (John Cardinal) provides the kind of customer service that now days we can only dream about.
10. Backup your data. You should routinely backup your data to not one but 2 different places. Back it up regularly. Trust me I speak from very painful and expensive experience. Someday you will thank me! (Clearly I did not read my own guidance and in November 2017 I lost a critical hard drive and through a combination of errors by a computer technician I lost a significant amount of data. The resulting lesson learned for me is to now backup my critical data in at least two places and at least one place that is not located physically with the other.)