Thinking about tracing your family tree? Consider doing genealogy research. Genealogy will tell you who is who, where your ancestors were born, when they died, what did they do for a living, who they married, and who their parents were, etc. If you are just getting started the best thing to do is start with yourself and work backwards. Write your name down, your birth date, place of birth, your parents name, their birthdates, places of birth, etc. Start noting what you know and what you don’t know, and who would know the information. Start making notes and asking questions! Think about who your oldest living relative is and find out if they are open to chat about some family details. Give them a call, today! Tell them you are working on a project and need some help!
You will need to learn the local history of the area you are researching. Understand how and when the county boundaries might have changed. For example, Jefferson County VA, become Jefferson County, in 1801. Also, Jefferson County Virginia become Jefferson County West Virginia in 1863. This might make a difference on which state and county you have to research based on when your family lived there.
Take a brief course on map reading, it will come in handy when looking at historical maps. What events occurred during the time your ancestor live in the area? If you are going on the journey of genealogical research, you need to become organized. Tony Burroughs’s (Black Roots p. 44) says, “Once the genealogy bug bites you, it will become an all-encompassing monster.” You will become obsessed! You can’t stop. You will suffer from the disease called the “genealogy pox”! Another good resource to check out is Angela Walton-Raji’s video called “The Beginning Genealogist” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSRL–on6gs&feature=related)
She hosts over 35 informative sessions to help you get started.
If you are not organized you will become frustrated and waste a lot of time duplicating your efforts and just become a collector of paper. Consider the following 10 tips to help you organize your time and files.
- Keep everything in one place. Have a designated place, whether that’s a binder or a filing cabinet, or a box in the corner.
- Start by grouping what information you have, by surname — it’s the most basic piece of information you can have about a family member, and provides a natural way to organize.
- If you’ve already done a bit of research, you may want to start a separate folder or binder for each surname. Use dividers/sections for family information, census records, vital statistic records (birth, death, will, and marriage), military service, and public records (tax, inventory and land).
4. Use the standard genealogical charts and forms, which will become essential in organizing names, dates, places, events, and tasks. Just Google and you will find them for free.
- Set up a “to do list” and stick with it, include items such as:
- Contact list
- Document list
- To do list, calendar
- Family tree charts, group sheets, census
- Oral history interviews, notes, letters, and documents: birth, death, will & marriage
- Photos, maps and newspaper clippings
- Keep a list of the questions you have
- Prepare an “outline” when you are planning a research trip. It does not matter if you are going to a library (don’t forget to talk to the librarian), courthouse or historical society; try to stay focused. If you see other names or events you need to research further, make a note on a post-it, or add to the “to do list”- date it and reference where you saw the information. This will allow you to find it at a later time.
- Try carrying a small notebook for each person
- Stick to your to do list
- Try to focus on one surname at a time, with your questions
- Do not try to analyze your information -take it home to read later, also to sort and make additional notes.
- Join and participate in a local genealogy group or society
- Attend genealogy training and conferences
- Share your experiences-the story needs to be told
- Ask for help when you need it…there might be other family members or researchers researching with the same questions.