Researching my family history and helping others navigate and research theirs has obviously become a passion for me, so I enjoy encouraging others to dig into their own histories. I don’t believe it should be a passion for everyone, but I do believe that each person should know a thing or two about their family’s past.
Get to know your family:
I have found that researching your family history can be a great tool (sometimes a great excuse) to get to know your family members. When I was younger I often felt like I didn’t know how to talk to older members of my family whom I didn’t know well or see often. Asking them to help me learn about the family’s past, their memories and stories of their life felt somewhat “safe” to me. It saved me from the small talk and allowed me to hear real life adventure stories. It allowed me to really picture what life was like for my family long ago. I am so thankful that through my research, I was able to really get to know some family members, grow the relationships, and keep the stories alive.
Everyone’s family is different and each family has secrets. Some family secrets are small and only slightly embarrassing, and will be told. Other family secrets will remain hidden until those who know them take them to the grave.
I was once speaking with an elderly family member who was telling me about the life of my great-great grandfather and as we began talking he said, “I am happy to tell you what I know, but there are things I need to leave out, because I will not break my family’s confidence and disgrace their memory”. I love that he held his ground and would not “tell all”. Part of me also really wanted to hear what secrets were left unmentioned.
Having a good system for keeping track of your notes, tree charts, questions, contacts, documents, photographs, maps… can seem overwhelming and tedious. However it is extremely important as you begin your research journey with a plan and some proper tools.
I am a pencil and paper girl, so I like to keep my research for each branch of my family tree in a separate three ring binder with tabs that are appropriate for what is in each specific book. Here is a list of tabs/sections that I would recommend starting with…
There are thousands of reasons we don’t seek out information for our family tree. The biggest barrier for me was really asking family (mostly family I didn’t know well) for facts and stories. I thought I didn’t know enough yet to ask good questions, I felt they would not have time for me, and I wouldn’t have time for them. What if they were offended that I didn’t already know the answers to the questions I wanted to ask?
I had to stop making excuses and just call some family members. I am so glad I did.
This may seem like an obvious statement, but even the best researchers think, “Oh, I’ll remember where I found this, and come back to it”, or “I’ll remember to ask Grandma Kate about that”… I have found that if I do not record something correctly right away, I may remember it incorrectly or not remember where I saw or heard it.
While you begin your genealogy project, you will most likely be provided a lot of information orally from family members. You will need to be prepared to take notes and have a good system for short hand or your own set of symbols you can recall easily to make your notes understandable to you.
Family tree research is just like detective work. You may only have a small piece of the puzzle and you need to find the other pieces to complete your tree. Each detail can be very important to confirm or disprove another detail you have found. Does it connect? That is a question you will be asking yourself over and over again throughout your research.
There are so many researchers out there looking into their family trees and oh so many mistakes! It is easier then you may think to make a mistake in your family research. I will talk about a variety of mistakes you may run into during your research in a later post, but generally these mistakes can be avoided by double checking facts and never taking information from another researcher (even family) without having documentation and/or a source. – Question everything.
My family history research was started back in 1999 and has developed and grown over time. I have learned a lot about how to do research, some do’s and don’ts and some tips that I wish I had known when I first began.
One quite exciting, but also overwhelming fact about family tree research is that each of us has multiple “branches” to research. Each of these branches has its own place of origin, as well as its own unique stories and facts. This makes it difficult to choose which branch to research first and where to begin.
I had not really thought much about my family tree until I entered college at Bethel College in Roseville, MN. (I graduated from there when it was still a “college” and not a university yet). I was taking courses to obtain a teaching degree for Early childhood education through sixth grade. I had a class (I cannot recall the name of the class), but during this class , we were given the task to create a family tree. Up to this point in my life, I had not spent any time thinking about my family history, where my family came from or making time to “get to know” my history through stories.