Thursday, April 16, 2015

Advice For Beginning Genealogists

Reposted from Genea-Musings by Randy Seaver 19 March 2015 (click link to see Randy's original post)

I found this post by Randy Seaver on his blog, Genea-Musings to be well thought out and to the point.  Many of you are just starting your family history research and I hope you will find Randy's suggestions helpful.

Advice for Beginning Genealogists

I've been asked questions, like the one below, by several society colleagues in the past month:

"I'm only a beginning genealogist, and I'm overwhelmed by how to start, what's best to do, in what order, etc."

This is an excellent question, and there are many possible answers to the question. Here are some of my answers after more reflection about them:

1) At the beginning, take a "Beginning Genealogy" course - either online at websites (e.g.,RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees or Guide to Family History Research) or at a local genealogy society or adult education center. Become familiar with the overall process, the terms, the standards, the paper forms, available repositories, and online resources. See A Guide to Research for the research process and for more details. Use the FamilySearch Research Wiki for information about record types, localities, and specific records.

2) Organize your research - use folders or binders for papers, organized by surname, or locality; use digital file folders for digital records (scanned photos, scanned documents, downloaded documents, etc.), organized by surname and family; use a genealogy management program (an online tree, or download software) to keep track of all of the name, relationship, date, place, source, notes, media, etc. information; maintain research logs and to-do lists to keep track of what you have done and want to do.

3) Become familiar with different record groups - start with vital records, census and cemetery records, and gradually learn about church, military, migration, citizenship, court, land, tax, town, newspaper, directory, and other record types. The sooner you understand why and how these record types were created, and how to access and obtain them, the faster you will become a competent genealogy researcher.

4) There may be published books and/or periodical articles in local or distant repositories on your ancestral surnames and localities. Other researchers may have found information about your ancestral families. Don't believe everything you read on the Internet in online family trees or on websites. Use this information as a guide, but don't completely trust it. Try to verify the information by doing your own research in records.

5) Understand that all of the records are NOT digitized or online in databases behind a subscription wall - perhaps only 10% (or less) is currently online, and not all of those are indexed. The "other 90%" are in repositories (e.g., libraries, archives, courthouses, historical/genealogical societies, attics/basements, etc.) and may be organized into record groups, or not. There are many records online that are FREE to access; others are behind a subscription wall. You can access many subscription sites for free at local FamilySearch Centers or some local libraries.

6) Join local, regional or national genealogical societies so that you can benefit from the knowledge and counsel of other researchers. Most societies have monthly programs with knowledgeable speakers on varied research topics. Some societies have a mentor program or a research advisor group where you can ask questions and receive advice.

7) Continue your genealogical education through reading, online webinars, all-day seminars, multi-day conferences, weeklong institutes, or semester long certificate classes. This is lifelong learning, it's more than two weeks of training and now "I are a genealogist."

8) Share your research with your family members or other researchers in conversations, in an online family tree, on a website or blog, on social media, etc. Other researchers may share your ancestral families, or know of resources available in a locality, or are expert in a specific record group.

9) It is easy to be overwhelmed as you visit repositories, search online for records, try to stay organized, learn software capabilities, attend classes or programs, etc. Depending on your daily schedule and priorities, plan each day with the short-term goal of learning something this hour, or this day, or this week, or this month, and apply yourself to doing it. Have a long-term education plan to learn more about research processes, record types, localities, resources, etc. Success in genealogy research is built on many small successes in individual families and localities.

10) We all started at the beginning - with our families, and we gradually became more knowledgeable about how to research, where to find resources, how to use software, etc. You will find that every success finding an ancestral family leads to two more ancestral families, and so on.
Steady progress can be made learning about your ancestral families, and moving your pedigree back in time. Sometimes we get stuck and can't find more information about the next family back on the chart.

Frankly, I think that the classical way to "begin" as described above is the best way to grow a competent genealogist. I know that websites like Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch and others are enticing beginners with advertising that essentially says "enter your parents and grandparents names, and we'll show you your ancestry."

The truth is you have to work at it to go back in time, one generation at a time. Perhaps you will get lucky and the Record Hints, Record Matches or Leaf Hints will highlight records of your ancestors, and their parents. Perhaps some other researcher has a long chain of ancestral families in an online family tree. This doesn't happen for every researcher.

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