Getting Started – Newbies

As I said, I am going slow here. When it comes to genealogy that isn’t always a bad thing. Actually it can save you from making rookie mistakes (like I did when I was first researching). Family history is like mining for gold in a way. Dig here, dig there, hope to make a strike. If you hit a vein you get this itch to keep going and going – dig dig dig! Before you know it you are adding your sister-in-law’s father-in-law’s uncle’s stepdaughter’s 3rd cousin once removed to your tree. If you want to get that far out there, OK, but I think for starters you need to set some priorities. After recording what you know in your tree make sure you document your finds. Confirm your sources are reliable – don’t just swipe something off another person’s tree or add someone on surname alone. You might find your sister-in-law’s father-in-law’s uncle’s stepdaughter’s 3rd cousin once removed trail you followed was totally bogus and you wasted all that time you could have been following your true family lines.

Here is what I suggest. Talk to your family. Ask the elders questions like:

  • Where and when were you born?
  • Who are your parents and grandparents? When and where were they born? Who were their parents and grandparents? etc…
  • Who are your siblings?
  • When did you get married?/How did you meet?
  • What were/are your professions?
  • What do you know about our family history?

These are just some suggestions. Ask as many questions as you can think of, really. When my grandparents were alive my dad got this idea to have me interview them in a video. I am so glad we did. SO SO glad we did. Not only glad to watch that memory on video, but to have these family history stories being told from their own mouths. It has most definitely helped me with my research. You might want to give your elders some blank pedigree charts to fill out. You can find free ones by Googling.

Decide how you want to record and store the information you find. You will want to keep your documents somewhere safe. This is your proof to back up your research. I keep mine in binders and have scanned copies on my computer. I have a tree on Ancestry (with documents attached) because it makes me feel better to know that there is one out there in the clouds that is safe if something happens to my computer or home (fire, flood, etc). Glean whatever useful information you can from them and record it in a family tree. Then store your records in an archival folder or binder of some sort. You can, of course, hand write your tree, but there is plenty of software and apps to be found. Many of them are free. So do a Google search and find the one that feels right for you.

What kind of records and documents? Birth, marriage, and death certificates of your ancestors if possible. Also census records, social security applications, military enlistment, wills & probate, immigration, adoption, etc etc. Anything that is official proof that said person existed, and preferably who their families were and where. Records that can distinguish your John Smith, son of Joseph Smith and Roberta Jones from John Smith, son of Josiah Smith and Dolly McSomone.

How do you find these records? Well, now, that is thing. In the old days, before the internet, you’d have to go or write to county recorders, churches, courthouses, cemeteries, historic societies, etc and hope to find something. Today, you still might have to do that, but the internet has made it so much easier (that is not to say it is easy – only easier and more convenient). I am so glad that I have had the internet to rely on for the majority of my research. You can find records on sites like Ancestry.com (for a subscription fee – making a tree is free I believe) or FamilySearch.org (for free). Some US states and counties have their own sites to help with research – for example Missouri Digital Heritage which can help you find birth or death certificates for your ancestors.

As I said before I am not a professional genealogist. Not at all. I’m merely a hobbyist putting this out here to help newbies. I’m not really the type who answers a lot of “how to ___” questions. Maybe there is better advice out there. I wanted to write this post up for people like myself who might jump in willy nilly, full of good intentions only to realize that they got all the way to the 1700s researching someone else’s John Smith. If only they had double checked their documents from 1880 in the first place.

My next post isn’t going to be a “how to.” I am going to be talking about my personal journey researching and doing DNA testing. Probably. Maybe.

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Reworking My Blog

I took a long break from my blog as I wanted to spend time on other interests. I am really happy with that decision as I am finally starting to find a voice with my art. I still have all my old posts on here, although now private, and have been trying to decide what to do with this space. I think I found the answer. One that should have been obvious. Maybe it was too obvious. I am a genealogy nerd. I will use this blog to document my journey. *yawn* for some of you, I am sure, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Maybe others can learn from my experiences, successes and mistakes.

Let me tell you I am in no way a professional genealogist. I pretty much just fly by the seat of my pants in every interest I undertake. When I was a little kid I used to pester my parents and most especially my grandparents for stories about what it was like “in the old days.” I loved hearing about a past world that I would otherwise never know. Plus there were things about my family that seemed different than others. Like why we were the only relatives with our surname. Well, Grandpa had a reason for that. He changed his last name… although he never officially had the other one in the first place. I’ll get to that another time. In school a teacher had us write up our family histories. I still had great grandmothers around and had a lot of fun interviewing them. At one point, when the internet was a baby and I was hanging out with my grandparents we got on their AOL (remember that? I barely do) and made a profile page for them telling a little about their lives. That was kind of the start for me.When my grandparents died it was also during a time many other friends and family members were passing away. I lost around a dozen loved ones in a ten year period. That is more than one person a year.  My grief was so deep I couldn’t even really feel it anymore. I turned to making a family tree as a way to cope. It helped me to feel close to these loved ones of mine and also gave me comfort to know I was helping them be remembered for future generations.

My first step was to write down what I knew. There are pedigree charts you can get free off the internet or you can just draw one up. I wrote out my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and all the siblings and cousins I could remember. Then I went to the Mormon library and asked for help getting started. They showed me how to use their system and before I left for the day I had already found a family line using hints from my Grandpa’s stories. He had mentioned the names Drake and Manley. Looking them up I was able to trace them down to my great grandma. Since then I have over a thousand ancestor names added to my tree and am still finding and adding new ones all the time.

I am probably going to be adding to this blog very slowly. It’s not like I have exciting genealogy events popping up all over the place. I do want to make a page of suggestions for newbies and then just fly by the seat of my pants from there.