A recent comment raised some interesting issues regarding the relationship of the survey to starting research. The basic question is whether we really want to know what has been done previously, especially if what has been done is worthless, misleading, fabricated or all three? Does it really do any good for your future research to understand the background, if the background is trash?
My opinion is that good or bad, right or wrong, you need to have a clear understanding of what work has been done on your family in the past. Why is this the case? As George Santayana said in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This quote is often misstated as "Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it." See Answers.com. However, even Santayana was borrowing the quote from Edmund Burke who said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
We could paraphrase this to apply to genealogy by saying, those who fail to do a reasonably exhaustive survey are going to waste time doing research that has already been done. So what if I find out all of my ancestors were charlatans and falsifiers? Who cares? Especially if I find out enough to know that the information in the book or on the family group record is not correct. In one of my last posts, I quoted Donald Lines Jacobus, saying, "Develop a healthy skepticism. Accept nothing unreservedly until proven." Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1968. Electronic version from Google eBooks.
Too bad that statement by Jacobus isn't given on a plaque to every budding and potential genealogist! But carefully note, he did not say to ignore anything. I certainly realize that there are a lot of careful and systematic researchers out there who can tell me all about the records in whatever city, county, country or continent they specialize in. But, even among that careful crowd there are still those who dismiss the work of others as not worthy of consideration.
Let's suppose you run across a printed genealogy collection tracing the descendants of a remote ancestor. First, look at when the book was written. For illustration purposes, let's suppose it was written in the 1880s. Think about it. The people who were alive at the time this book was written could have been born as early as 1800 or earlier. Their parents were probably born around 1780 or so. Their grandparents were born in the mid-1700s. Why would you dismiss the information in the book out-of-hand just because you found some errors and poor to no citations of authority. They were alive when history happened. Extending that example, let's assume that you find some blatant falsifications. Why are they there? Who was so worried about the truth that they had to change the facts? Who benefited from the change? What can you learn about the family from the changes?
Now don't get me wrong, I have been among the first to rail against the sloppy research evidenced in surname books, but on the other hand, we have found them invaluable, if for no other reason, than to identify people in old photographs. The mistake is ignoring what has been done entirely. So what if there is a whole line of copied errors. Now that you know the "true" facts, you can correct your own work and ignore the misstatements, but don't fail to find the records in the first place. Don't ignore the past.