Our ancestors' lives were filled with hardship and sacrifice but also joy. Every November, I make a list of what I’m most grateful for, and their sacrifices that allow me to live as I do take a top spot. You may be surprised to know that you, my readers, are also on the list. Throughout the year I receive so many wonderful emails from readers sharing stories of family lost and found, sending encouraging words of thanks as well as so many questions. This month, I thought I’d share some of the most common questions I’m asked.

How can a cousin be ‘removed’? Relationships can get pretty tangled in a family tree but "once removed" relatives always causes confusion. This terms describes the relationship across different generations. Cousins who are "once removed" have a one-generation difference. A first cousin of your father is your first cousin, once removed. You and your grandparent's first cousin are first cousins twice removed.

How do I find out if I’m related to someone famous? If you've heard family lore that you’re descended from royalty, a president or celebrity, you just might be. But just like any other family research you need to start with your own family and work your way back. Many famous family trees can be found online which can help you connect your branches.

Did my family’s name get changed at Ellis Island? This is a common misconception. Ellis Island employees were not responsible for recording immigrants' names. Instead errors likely happened overseas. When purchasing their ticket on a ship, a clerk would write the passenger's name on the ship's manifest often without asking for identification to verify spelling. Most commonly immigrants would change their own name to sound more American or fit into their new community.

How can I know that my family tree is accurate? Even the most seasoned researcher will admit to finding a mistake or two. In order to keep on the straight and narrow, you need to always check your sources. A Bible entry of a birth date may have been written long after the event, a birth certificate was written at the time of birth. Keep this in mind when adding new information.

Someone already researched my family online; can’t I just copy their tree? No. Never assume someone else has accurate information. Also, copying a tree can mean spreading any mistakes they’ve made. Review their research, check their sources and compare to your own first.

Do you include adopted or step-children in your tree? What about ex-spouses? All sorts of relationships make up our family and shape our lives. Whether or not you choose to include non-blood related family in your tree is up to you. Like my life, my tree branches have twists and turns. I’ve chosen to include everyone I’m connected to, whether blood-related or not, so the next generations know we didn’t have to be related by blood (or marriage) to be considered family.

What is the best advice for speaking to elderly relatives? Memories can be shaky so asking additional questions can help. You’ll find that sometimes they forget, sometimes they lie and sometimes they mix things up. Sometimes the truth is way more interesting than the story but they're not yet ready to share. Take a recorder so you’re less focused on taking notes and more focused on them.

So many hours of research with no result. How do you stay focused? Because I love this work so much people think I don’t get frustrated but I do. Good reminders are: 1). Just know that it takes a long time to find answers sometimes, grab a coffee and settle in; 2). When something frustrates you, move on and come back to it later; 3). Remind yourself occasionally of what you’ve accomplished rather than what’s needed; 4). Repeat after me: what is worth having is worth working towards.

Everyone’s life is worth remembering and genealogy allows us the privilege of being caretakers to those memories. Make your list of gratitude this month and remember to include all those who’ve paved your way. Happy hunting!

Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits of Cambria is a National Genealogical Society member, Association of Professional Genealogists member and freelance writer. Send questions or comments to noellasdaughter@gmail.com.

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