Category Archives: Beginning Concepts

Beginning Concepts: Data Collection Tips

If you are brand new to genealogy or if you want to do a refresh here are some solid starting points.

  • Start with yourself and work back in time.
  • Begin with what you know and work toward the unknown.
  • Start with the basics: birth, marriage, death
  • Add more details: military, education, residences, employment

Utilize common family history forms or genealogical software to help you build your family tree. Start with yourself and record everything about you, your spouse, kids, etc. Then work on your siblings and parents. Don’t stop with your direct line. Write down everything you know about your aunts, uncles, cousins, expanding out from your direct line.

Start in your own home. Look through your old papers for:

  • birth and death certificates
  • marriage records
  • diplomas
  • newspaper clippings
  • letters or diaries
  • photographs
  • funeral programs
  • yearbooks

I’m not going to tell you that one way is better than another. The best way to do anything is the way that works for you. I will tell you that I started with paper forms. Then I used an old Mac program that no longer exists. I’ve used a Mac since the beginning of time and so I have been a Reunion user almost since their beginning. I also use online family trees, but I treat those more like a holding place while I’m using their website. All of my research is housed in Reunion. I also print everything and organize it in my binder system.

Once you’ve exhausted everything in your own home, you’ll want to start talking to your relatives. We will discuss that next time. That’s where the fun begins!

Beginning Concepts: Why do we do genealogy?

I’m starting a new series that will focus on some “beginning” or basic concepts of genealogical research. A bit of a reset, perhaps. This year has been one giant [insert your favorite expletive-driven description here.] I’m feeling the need to get back to some of the basics before we head into the holidays and 2021. I’m hoping for a refocus and a shift in my thinking after the utter [again, insert your favorite descriptor here… “crapfest” comes to my mind] this year has been.

So this new series will look at some of the basics, starting with, why do we even do this at all? There are spiritual, religious, emotional, and psychological reasons we might be engaged in this pastime:

  • Greater understanding of family stories brings empathy to living family members, perhaps emotional healing
  • Helps with loneliness and depression by filling you with a feeling of knowing your family members and ancestors loved you (even if indirectly)
  • It may help with that muddling-through-life feeling by understanding that our ancestors went through tough times too and survived. “I can DO this! It’s in my DNA!”
  • Provides us with wisdom and a broader perspective when we understand our ancestors in historical and social contexts
  • May experience “spiritual power” and serendipity while engaged in genealogy

“If you were to gather fifty genealogists in a room, chances are that forty-five of them would readily admit to having experienced a few unexplainable incidents in their search for roots.”

Megan Smolenyak, In Search of Our Ancestors

One of my favorite book series is Psychic Roots by Henry Z. Jones, Jr. which explores some of the anecdotal, serendipitous moments genealogists have experienced.

Has the genealogy “bug” bitten you? Have you thought about why? What benefits you may be getting from researching your ancestors? You might take a few moments to consider the WHY of your love/obsession with family history research. For some it may be as simple as finding the next piece of the puzzle. For others, it may take on a whole new dimension.