|A New Year – A New Hobby
By Candice Lynn Buchanan
Whether you made a New Year’s Resolution to record your family history or you are just ready to take on a new exciting pastime, right now is a great time to become a genealogist! Why not?!
Books, web sites, and workshops to get you started are numerous and well worth exploring. Locally, you will absolutely want to pay a visit to the Cornerstone Genealogical Society in Waynesburg and learn about the records that are available to you in their library.
As you are starting to assemble your family tree, here are a few ideas to consider to help you make the most of your time and effort:
Talk to your relatives
Begin by learning what your family members already know. The names and details they reveal will give you good leads to start searching with and could save you hours of research spent reproducing what Grandma or Aunt Sue already knew.
• Take notes as your relatives talk; don’t expect to remember everything you heard. As you build your family tree you will begin to realize how all of those names and facts can get confusing – your notes will prove useful in keeping them straight.
• Write down who you spoke to and the date of each conversation. These interviews may be valuable to document as evidence as you compile your genealogy.
• Make sure you know exactly who is being talked about. If nicknames are popular in your family ask for real names too. Avoid initials for the same reason. Even if your grandfather insists that P. A. Gilbert never used his first name or only went by “Gil”, you need to know that Prince Albert Gilbert might show up on a birth record index, whether or not he liked being named for Queen Victoria’s husband.
• Ask for locations. Place of birth, marriage, death, and burial are key starting points. The more specific the better, but even general locations will help. Records are usually organized by state, then by county, and then by township/district/borough/etc. Knowing where to look will save you a lot of time examining records in the wrong location.
• Don’t take as absolute fact everything you hear. Much value can come from this information, but if you find contradictions as you research make note of it – those points will need further investigation.
Document Your Sources
Document your sources from the moment you begin to research and you will thank yourself later. It is exciting to begin your family research. Every time you find the name you are looking for, your heart beats a little faster. It is so satisfying to fill-in the names, dates and life details that a record will reveal, that it is natural to want to go straight to the next record to get more. But try not to be a victim of this common research pitfall. It is very important that before you move on, you also write down what record you found the information in. It may sound tedious or distracting, but you will be glad you did it. Tracking yours sources is a part of research in any field, genealogy is no different. The records you find are your proof, the evidence that makes the case in your genealogy investigation.
• In the course of your research, you will find contradictions at one time or another and you will need to know what each contradicting record said so that you can weigh the evidence. Having to try to go back and relocate each record is redundant and sometimes hard to do.
• If you decide to print a report or even write a book for your family the footnotes and bibliography you have collected as you searched will not only be impressive, but reveal how hard you have worked and what a quality product you have created.
• Don’t be discouraged by documentation. It does not have to be hard or a lot of extra work. If you are looking for a guidebook to help you out, there is good news! Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: GPC, 1997) was written by a genealogist for genealogists and is always highly recommended. Mills includes a chart of the most common genealogy resources and shows you exactly how to document them. You can order the book online or through a book store. My copy is always with me.
Get out there & have fun!
If you are able to, you should get on-site, not just online, to do your research. Visit the courthouses, cemeteries and genealogical societies in the communities where your ancestors lived. Hands-on research makes the experience more meaningful and often more successful. Volunteers and local residents who know the area can tell you what records are available and where you can find them. They may also have advice or ideas that could prove very useful.
Your ancestors are out there just waiting for you to find them so get started now!
All material within this
web site has been compiled by Candice Buchanan <email@example.com>
(63 W. Franklin St.; Waynesburg, PA 15370).
Data sources documented whenever possible. Contributors credited for shared information. Questions, feedback and contributions welcome.
Copyright © 2003-2008 Candice Buchanan. All rights reserved.