Verify, Verify, Verify
When I began my ancestral journey almost a year and a half ago, I was amazed at all the information I found. I had NO IDEA that you could view U.S. Census Records at Ancestry.com or HeritageQuest.com. (I also didn't know that you can access HeritageQuest [HQ] free from many public libraries, many of which offer it to cardholders from their own homes). I never thought to seek information from the Social Security Death Index (available for free at Rootsweb). And the message boards and mailing lists available at Rootsweb? WOW.
As I trudged through the information highway I came to appreciate the relatively uncommon surname of Hodick (my father's mother's family). I didn't expect so many hits for O'Rourke, McHugh, and Doyle in Pennsylvania! Sheesh, there's even a Doylestown in PA (I'm so glad mine weren't from there. At least not that I've found as of yet!). It wasn't long before I learned that scrutinizing every bit of given information on a person was vital in order to ensure I had the right ancestor! Especially given that Census Records aren't always very accurate: Names are often misspelled (did I mispell misspell?); Places of birth are often confusing, given political boundary changes of other countries, such as areas of Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; ages aren't always correct. Census records, while invaluable, are only as accurate as the provider of the information, which might have been a child. Finding census records online is only as easy as the transcribers who index them find it to read the forms.
I've gained a pretty secure feeling that the people I've entered into my genealogy program are members of my family tree. But now it's time for me to begin ordering copies of vital records, land records, and other publicly filed documents so that I can include documentation of my findings and, hopefully, learn new things about these people I proudly call "family".