IMPORTANT: CHECK YOUR FACTS!
I'm often asked how I have managed to uncover so many facts about my family ancestry, and how I am certain that I am related to the people that I write about. It's a valid question, and one that I welcome.
When I started this journey over 20 years ago, I had no idea that my paternal family history was so well documented and that I was related to so many interesting people, both living and dead. It was only through years of research and fact checking that I slowly began to uncover my family's past and then I was able to expand my research and make some pretty amazing discoveries.
Genealogy and family research is not something that can be rushed if you want an accurate picture of your family history. Some online sites make researching and creating a family tree seem very simple, and they even offer nice templates and "hints" to help you create your own family tree. The only problem is that a lot of these "hints" are not at all relevant to the ancestor that you are researching; you still must carefully vet each and every piece of information to ensure that it is correct and applies to your particular ancestor. Also, with a lot of records, the names, dates and places may have been copied incorrectly transcribed (most records are transcribed by volunteers and their work is not checked before being put online). If you simply add the information to your tree, you can end up with incorrect dates, locations, names and more. This is particularly true for old handwritten documents that are being digitized - you always have to open the document and view it yourself to see if the information is correct.
There are also some free sites that allow you to build a family tree BUT they also allow other members to edit, add and delete information from that same tree. I had heard about this from a fellow genealogy researcher and couldn't believe what she was saying...until it happened to me. The site in question is FamilySearch.org and this past weekend I received an email hint from them. When I checked the hint (which was good, by the way), I discovered that 2 other members were building on the family tree that I created and, in the process, had added in all sorts of incorrect information (one person had my 2x great grandmother living in 2 countries at the same time, and dying in each country several years apart). I was disgusted with the mess that they had made of my tree, so I am no longer using that site for anything other than record searching.
Using DNA test information to help confirm information that you already have in your family tree, or to be able to overcome some "roadblocks" in your family tree can often be helpful. When you combine DNA research with other family history research, it can really unlock a lot of useful and helpful information.
For people who do not have the time or patience for conducting thorough research, you may want to hire a reputable company to do some or all of the legwork for you. I have done this in the past to verify information that I had researched and, while very expensive at the time, it confirmed that my research methods were valid and correct. If you do not want to pay upwards of US85.00/hour or more, there are some other helpful paid research firms that you can use, such as my friends over at The Ancestor Detectives (www.theancestordetectives.com). They only take on work that they are confident they can handle, and they limit the number of clients that they take at any one time.
Whatever you decide to do, please be sure to check your sources and verify your sources before you add them to your family tree. After all, you are creating a legacy of your own family history that will help untold numbers of your descendants better understand their own family history!