Friday, May 1, 2015

Family History Made Easier: Don’t Reinvent the Genealogy Wheel

I am doing something a little different for this blog entry.  I wanted to tell you a little bit about how and why I have been doing research into my family tree. So the regular family history stories will continue next week. 

One caveat before I begin, however, is that I am not an expert on this subject.  I am a work in progress and continue to be astounded with new stuff everyday.  However, I have had a lot of “lessons learned” over the years and thought I would pass some of that on, to any interested parties, in hopes that it may save you some time. 

I have had several people ask me why I decided to do the blog and where I go to get my information, such as when I applied for my Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) membership.  My recent stories on my family come from my memories, with the help of my dad, (who I have bugged relentlessly with questions) and other family members.  My DAR application required a lot of research, and patience, to find all the documents required to apply.  But I did it, applied and was accepted.  To make sure I had everything I needed though, I visited with the local DAR Registrar, before I sent my app in.  She was so helpful.  If you have a DAR Chapter in your area, and are thinking of applying, take advantage of this person.  That’s what they are there for.  They are a wealth of info on how to begin, as well as all that is required at the end.

I was talking to a friend recently who had inherited a trunk with many family treasures tucked away inside.  It had valuable family history information that would make it pretty easy for her to do the genealogy on that particular side of the family.  I was so jealous as I listened to her tell me about all the journals, pictures etc. she had in her possession.  I would love to have had those resources when I began my search for the people in my family tree.  But thank goodness, there are options out there for people who don’t.

Living family members can be one of your best resources.  Talk to them, ask them lots of questions, record their stories, take pictures and do it now.  I want to emphasize two points here, the RECORD and the NOW.  I wish someone had given me this advice 25 years ago, when many of my family members were still alive.  I just did not have the foresight to ask lots of questions when they were still living.  Take the time to visit with your mom, dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins and glean as much information as you can.  And write it all down or voice record it.  Make your notes concise and easy to read, so when you go back to them at a later time, you can understand what you have written.  It will at least give you a better place to start and you can branch out from there.

There are many online websites that you can search through, sitting in the comfort of your home.  But the best place to get the most direct information is at the location where your ancestor lived or came from.  I really need to do this and will hit the North Carolina Archives in Salisbury, when time allows.  The Historical Society, State Archives, and local Chambers of Commerce are invaluable when you know where your ancestor came from.  When searching on or, many times they don’t have a copy of the original and require you to go directly to the State Archives or to Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, another place I want to spend some time in.  The websites are great but they couldn’t possibly put everything that is out there on them.  However, more and more documents are being scanned and loaded to these sites everyday. I read an article that Family Search had reached 1 Billion online indexed records, in less than 7 years, but anticipate they will have another billion in far less time. 

Any information you find should be cited.  Make sure to get all the information about the newspaper articles, death certificates, wills, etc. like where it was located, dates, book titles, page numbers, every little detail you can think of.  Why do I stress this?  Because I have found some cool stuff, put it in my file, went back to it later and had no idea where it came from.  You will want all that information to verify your research. Write names on the back of pictures or file them in a way that you can have a directory.  Nothing is worse than having a picture of a family member but having no idea who they are.  There is a great book out there that gives you all kinds of information on citing your materials.   It is Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  Thomas MacEntee also has one called Citing Your Sources.

Learn from other people who are doing their family history research.  There are some very interesting blogs out there from people who know their stuff when it comes to genealogy.  Take advantage of their experience.  They have been doing this for a long time and I have learned numerous ways to streamline my work, just by viewing their YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, or reading their blogs.  A couple really good ones are Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings, Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems, and Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers.  There are tons more but I have found these to be very helpful. 

I started my blog because of some videos I watched on Lisa Louise Cooke’s YouTube website and I listen to her podcasts regularly.  They always have lots of little “Gems” that I pick up and try for myself.  Her YouTube channel has many great videos.

There are many more resources out there.  The Geneabloggers website lists over 3,000 genealogy and family history blogs, if you want to check out what others are doing.  And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Every day, more and more things come out on the Internet that help the genealogist in training improve their techniques.

Facebook has become a great source for genealogy information too.  I mentioned in a previous blog Tidbit that I had hit a brick wall and listed it on the North Carolina Genealogy Facebook page.  Within 30 minutes I had broken through the wall with information people had provided. 

Everyone has heard of Angie’s List and Craigslist, but have you heard of Cyndi’s List?  If you have done any genealogy, at some point you have probably run across this powerhouse of a resource. 

Cyndi’s List has over 330,000 links where you can go for all kinds of valuable information that may help you find that long lost relative.  It is my go to source when I think I have covered all my bases and am still coming up short.  It’s also just a fun site to dive into and click away to see all that is available.  If you haven’t been on Cyndi’s List before, or recently, treat yourself and check it out here.

I am very thankful for all those out there who have been so gracious to share information online that helps us “want to be” genealogists.  I just hope I can pay it forward someday.

Today’s Terri’s Tidbit: has lots of information for those who are interested in genealogy.  They have an Ancestry Genealogy Toolkit that is packed with links, articles, charts, blank fill in forms, etc.  If you want to check it out, click here.

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