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Long ago I regarded genealogy as a pasttime for boring old people with too much time on their hands. Day after day they sat in libraries and courthouses, and spent hours looking through countless books and microfilm rolls. I could not see the value of their effort. I had no intention of joining them in their trivial pursuits.

Then the genealogy bug bit me. I don't know when exactly, but I felt a need to start writing down family history. It was slow going at first -- I had no idea where to start. But years of professional experience with the internet tought me some valuable lessons in research. Even if I didn't know what to do, through the World Wide Web I could find someone who did.

It wasn't long before I found what most genealogy 'newbies' discover -- information is out there if you know where to look. That's one secret. The second secret is letting others know what you are doing. Once you enlist the help of others -- family, friends, local historians -- you will begin to break down those "brick walls" that confront all genealogists at one time or another.

I don't consider myself a seasoned genealogist by any stretch of the imagination. But I have learned some valuable lessons; some on my own, some through the assistance of many patient and generous people. I want to share these insights with those of you who are just starting out on the road to discovery.

Prepare yourself mentally and physically. You will be spending considerable time pouring over books and records in libraries, courthouses, and archives depositories, and transcribing many pages of data. You may travel long distances to interview relatives or to walk through endless cemeteries. If you have internet access and email, you may acumulate many dozens of messages from potential leads.

Join an organized genealogy group. Even if you are unable to attend all meetings, keep in touch with group members via phone or mail, and don't be shy about asking for advice. That's the reason they started the group in the first place.

Many people will be happy to help you; others will not. Remember to be patient but persistent with those you ask for information. Keep an open mind to the fact that some family history may have been "forgotten" for a reason, and some memories are too painful to recall. Ask someone else.