Tuesday's Tip is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites. What advice would you give to another genealogist or family historian, especially someone just starting out?
I'm an amateur genealogist so I can give you some tips to get started.
* Take a notebook with you and/or an audio recorder and visit with your family members. Begin to ask questions and jot down the answers. Take notes on the family stories. Your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, great aunts/great uncles, cousins. I have an elder cousin who said, "If I could just ask my grandfather who his parents, grandparents and great grandparents were, I would be able to jump that missing link." All will have different information that can give you the data you want or clues to the data you need. Genealogy is about getting down the statistics such as date of birth, date of death, where buried. But it's also about family stories, interesting tidbits that help you place your family in history. For instance I learned about the story of my great grandmother who died during the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. And, currently, I'm reading a book that details this dangerous time. The book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. It really brings history alive when you realize your family lived through it and how it affected them. One tip, don't wear your family members out by asking more and more questions. Try to do it in small increments or they will dread to see you coming! Be sensitive to delicate information. Some families are ashamed of Great Uncle Whozit and his horse stealin'. But there is no family that doesn't have it's black sheep or closet secrets. We are all human beings and we all sin so it puts us in the same boat. In this day and age, there is really no such thing as historical "dirty laundry" to keep secret. Now, if there is something find out about a cousin who is still alive... don't air it publicly. It is their life. If Jane Doe doesn't know she's illegitimage or adopted don't tell her, that is her life. But if John Smith was caught for murder back in 1856 and hung in front of the courthouse... it's considered an interesting story now, not something shameful to keep hidden. We all have stories like that in our family histories. No family is perfect because we are all human beings! Our society seems more understanding of things that we used to keep quiet. So so-and-so's illegitimate child is no longer considered a "shameful secret" to hide. But some people are still chary of going back and "dragging up stuff better left in the past". If you are sensing that they are reluctant or even hostile on a subject then go in a different direction and leave it alone. You can do your own sleuthing. If you do find out the story, make your private notes but don't publish anything publicly that would offend or hurt a living family member.
* Being organized is a must in genealogy. You will never remember all the ancestors you locate or all the information you gather. So, the first thing I would suggest is to clear out a filing drawer and get some file folders and place hard copies of all the information you collect. Label your folders for family names such as: Brown, Smith, Doe. Now, when you find a marriage record for your great grandparents file a hard copy of this marriage record in the family folder. I have files for all my family lines. I add another folder when I begin working on another line. I will keep hardcopies of my data in those family folders. You can also keep notebooks (by family name) with copies of the family trees or individual family sheets. For instance, a binder for the Smith family line. Put a tree chart at the beginning and then add Family Group Sheets as you complete them. You can do a Google search for genealogy forms such as Family Group Sheets or different types of pedigree charts (sounds like a dog pedigree doesn't it?). Here are examples of some I found:
Different styles of family tree charts.
Simple Line Chart
Elaborate Box Chart
Bow tie Chart
* If you keep it on the computer, be sure to print out a hard copy of your family group sheets as you finish with them and put it in the notebook. I kept my data on the computer using Family TreeMaker since it first came out. But one day I lost every bit of my data due to a corrupted file. I didn't realize anything was wrong and I had backed up so my backup file was corrupted also. So I had to start all over again and I learned to make hard copy. I now use Rootsmagic which is a great program and less expensive. Be sure you keep different family files. Don't just have one big file. I did that and when it got corrupted, I lost everything on all my lines. So now I create a separate file for some of the major lines I'm following. For instance, I have a file for all my great grandparents. One Rootsmagic file for Barnes, another for Michael, another for Huneycutt and anothe for Boone. On my mother's side I have a Rootsmagic file for Reese, Lamb, Conner, Miller. A total of 8 different files. Then, once I get on another line and I'm gathering extensive material, I go ahead and create another file for that line. An example. Let's say that I'm working in my Reese file and I begin concentrating on my Great Great Great Grandmother (who was Mary Jane Freeman Rees) line of Freemans. I begin to gather so much info that I close my Reese file. I make a copy to another folder and rename this copied Reese file to "Freeman". Now I move this Freeman file back to the original folder and I now have a Reese and a Freeman file. At first, they are exactly alike but, of course, as I continue to work on the Freeman file it will change and have more Freeman stuff in it. Another tip is to "grandfather" your backups. Make sure you backup but be sure you backup with a date and time on the file to make it different from the next backup. Keep at least 4-5 of your latest backups, in case one gets corrupted like mine did. And keep copies of your files and backups on some external souce such as online backups or separate external hard drives or on your laptop and your desktop.
* Be sure to make extensive notes on the sources for your information. For instance, I don't just put "1850 Census" as the source. I would put something like this:
"1880 U.S. Census of Pickens CH, Pickens County, South Carolina; Roll 1238; Family History Film: 1255238; Page: 12C; Enumeration District: 128, Lines 34-41, 'Saml Brown' (sic) and 'James A. Brown'"
If your information is from a book, keep a note of the book's title, author, publisher, date published and what page you found the information on. If it's a website, note the data URL, the home page URL, the owner, copyright date, and anything else. Just keep in mind 2 things: 1) I want to be able to find this information again if I need to, 2) I want to give credit where credit is due.
*If you know where ancestors are buried, visit these cemeteries and take photographs of the tombstones and church or cemetery, jot down the statistics. Look for others with the same last names that are buried in the same cemeteries. Many families were buried in the same place and you can find siblings, parents, etc. Jot down the info but don't rely on it. The informants for the tombstone may not have known the facts very well. For instance a lot of men went by their initials such as J.T. for Jonathon Todd. When a 90 yr old J.T. dies, is there someone who remembers his real name? Believe me I found an ancestor whose tombstone has the wrong first and middle name because he went by his initials and by the time the family could afford a tombstone no one was alive who remembered what the initials stood for. So take notes but look for backup to support your notes.
*Go to the local library and ask for help in looking up obituary notices in the local newspaper, census records, veteran records, etc. My library has a genealogy room that has an attendant on duty and she has shown me how to look for things; how to use the microfiche machine, the computer and the copy maker. Don't look to the attendant to do your work for you but look for her to guide you and show you where to look. Most libraries have a library edition of Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest.com and you can use them for free. This is great for someone who cannot afford a yearly subscription. I used to take my laptop and spend hours in the quiet, temperature-regulated library and look up data and type it into my laptop. If you are looking for someone in particular, this is great. But there are a few drawbacks. I finally decided I was spending so much time at the library that it really made more sense to pay the annual subscription rate for Ancestry.com. The library's computers were slower than mine so I spent too much time waiting (I'm just too used to instant!) and I can be doing other things. For instance I can go put on supper and then return to my computer and continue looking until supper is ready. I can work while I watch TV at night, etc. Also, I found there were more databases available with my subscription than with the library's subscription (I had assumed it would be the opposite). For instance, our library didn't have the other submitted family trees that I can access at home. DO NOT rely on these family trees as gospel truth. Too many times an error is repeated as others just use the same erroneous data for their family trees. Let's say that I make a typo on Auntie Em's Date of Birth (DOB). It's 1892 instead of 1893. I make a simple human mistake but I publish my family tree on Ancestry.com. Before you know it this mistake gets picked up by others who don't verify their information for themselves. Poor Auntie Em's DOB will be 1893 forever. :( But it does give you clues and you can search and try to verify. With your own subscription, you can add corrections to Ancestry.com's data with supporting details which will help someone else along the line. For instance, the 1880 Census has Great Great Uncle Jack Doe as "Jock Doc" and you just happen to find him. You can submit a correction with supporting data in order to help someone later who might be looking for old Jack Doe.
*Get online and find out where you can get copies of death certificates, birth certificates, marriage records. Do Google searches on family names and find other websites with genealogy that would help you (always verify the data with separate source!!!). Use Ancestry.com. Join them for at least a year and do as many searches as you can before your year is up. I didn't think it would be much of a help, but I was wrong. It was a wonderful resource. The Mormon records at FamilySearch.com is a great resource too.
* Find out where you can locate wills on file, land grants, land deeds. This kind of information may be at the county seat, the courthouse, the city hall, etc. These items can give you the names of wives, children and show where they lived, property they owned, etc..
* If you know of a family home place, go by and take photographs. If the house is gone, pin point it on a map and and get the GPS coordinates. Don't disturb the new owners by trespassing. Go to the front door and ask permission to traipse on their land and don't get upset if they deny you. Just be nice and back off. If there is a family business, try to get a photograph. Same with a family church, or where a family member used to work, their school. I have a photo of the building that was a general store with an apartment in the back where some of my husband's ancestors used to live. It's now a beauty shop but that is OK, it's still the place where they lived, the actual building.
* Join local genealogical societies and check out their compiled information. A lot of people voluntarily collect info. They may publish it as a book sponsored by the genealogical society, publish in the genealogical society's newsletter or they may do it so that their genealogical society can post online (such as complete surveys of cemeteries). Contact historical groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Colonial Dames, etc. Usually these groups have a registrar who helps you find what you need in order to join their organizations. These proofs of ancestry are kept in their records so that future generations can access them. They have a headquarters with excellent libraries. Also check into the Mormon records (Church of Latter Day Saints, the LDS).
* Always be prepared to share with other genealogists. I have recieved so much help and free data from other genealogists who are willing to share. I try to share freely with everyone who needs my help because so many helped me. I have met distant cousins and made friends due to sharing back and forth. Be careful what you share about people who are still living. You don't want to invade their privacy and share their private info with strangers.