12 Must Read Tips for Genealogy Beginners
For those new to genealogy the common sentiments are often all or some of the following: where to start, what to get started with, what are the available free genealogy sites, what records are available and how far back do they go - often contributing to a general sense of overwhelm. Many beginners embark on their genealogy research only to discover opportunities where they could have minimized their time and efforts and achieved results in a more seamless way.
Recently a number of readers and followers to The Genealogy Event were asked “what would you say to your beginner self about starting on genealogy?”. Below highlights these recommendations alongside with a few others. So if you are just starting with your genealogy, and before you begin spending time looking into where and what to get started here are some important considerations to take into account.
1) INTERVIEW RELATIVES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Interview your relatives as soon as possible, especially older relatives. One of the regrets that those that begin genealogy research later in life is “if only I’d asked the questions sooner”. Better yet, record them via audio or even video, if they will permit, so you can catch inflections, words used and other nuances you may miss if you just capturing details as they speak into a notebook.
2) RECORD EVERY SOURCE YOU USE
There is nothing more frustrating than finding yourself repeating the same research steps. Be sure to capture the source the moment you use it and where this source was found. For example let’s say it was a census record, it is important to detail the year of the record, the type of record, where this record was found (ie the name of the website), what page(s) conveyed the detail and any other pertinent details. Many indexes of birth, marriage and death records will indicate a book volume and page - all important to record.
3) DEVELOP AN ORGANIZATION SYSTEM
You’d be surprised at how much organization comes to play once you start researching. This could include the organization and sorting of old photographs, newspaper clippings, birth, marriage or death certificates, family memorabilia, booklets and more. For example will you use boxes, binders or file folders to store these? What proportion will you assign to paper vs digital record keeping?
4) BACKUP YOUR RESEARCH
It’s wonderful to collect data both digitally and in hard copy for your family tree building but what is your plan to backup this information? What if there was a fire, a flood or other occurrence that impacted your treasured documents and research information? What if your computer unexpectedly crashed? Maintaining a regular back up strategy to ensure any loss is only momentarily, or at least not entirely.
5) VALIDATE STORIES
So say your aunt shared your ancestors once owned a large castle. Sounds great, but how much of that is a story versus an actual fact? While believing a story until you have reason not to is certainly a recommended approach, it is important to accept any story, tale, account as an important element to your history, however they should be further researched. Maybe that ancestor in fact worked at the castle, or the name of the town included the word castle or it was simply a story that passed through the generations and no one prior to you, of course (!) questioned it.
6) ANTICIPATE BRICK WALLS
Hopefully your first foray into genealogy research will prove fruitful and you’ll be able to uncover a number of great clues and discoveries. It is important though to realize that at some point you will hit a wall, a research brick wall that is, where you are challenged to get past a certain point. Take stock of other creative research strategies you could take to explore this further, or simply take pause and focus on another aspect of your family research.
The wonderful part of genealogy is that there can be many different research paths to undertake. However twists and turns including research brick walls, lost records, unresponsive or slow to respond relatives, slow loading websites or outages of certain sites will no doubt take place in some way, shape or form. While it can be frustrating not to gain immediate results, a bit of patience will be of help.
8) START SMALL AND BUILD
It is best to start on identifying small or focused aspects of your research and then build up, expand and take on more complex research strategies. One first step recommended to adopt: obtain the birth, marriage and death dates up to your great grandparents or even great great grandparents level. This will keep you centered on a very focused path to which you can then determine what line of the family tree or other aspect you’d like to further concentrate on.
9) USE FREE RESOURCES
Researching today offers many free resources without the need to spend or even to step away from your computer. Do take advantage of free resources and special access timeframes. Large genealogy sites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage and Findmypast often offer free access to sections of their records throughout the year. St Patrick’s Day weekend will undoubtedly offer free access to Irish records, Memorial Day could mean free access to military records, etc.
10) GAIN HISTORICAL, GEOGRAPHICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
Taking some time to understand more about the history, geography and social context of different timeframes will help considerably with your research. This may open up new avenues of research possibilities as well as provide you with a sense of how your ancestors lived.
11) ADOPT CONSISTENT LABELING
Adopting a consistent labeling system across both your paper and digital records will ensure an ease of accessing and filing / uploading future records. A common practice is to use a LAST NAME, FIRST NAME, YEAR, RECORD TYPE. If you have frequently used names you may wish to add another identifier such as the relationship between you and your ancestors.
12) MAINTAIN A LIST OF QUESTIONS TO STILL ANSWER
As you undergo your research it is recommended you maintain a list, either in a notebook log, or through an online note taking resource of questions you still have yet to answer. It may be that you are focused on finding the death date of your great great grandfather. While looking at the death record you notice the name of the information shares the same surname as your ancestor. This could be an example of an item to explore further after your are completing your quest to identify birth, marriage and death dates. Moreover as you return to some of these unanswered questions, you may find you have since resolved them. Now that is something you will most certainly enjoy!
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