SOME ADVICE FOR THOSE JUST STARTING OUT
Long ago I regarded genealogy as a pasttime for boring old people with too much time on their hands. Day after day they sat in libraries and courthouses, and spent hours looking through countless books and microfilm rolls. I could not see the value of their effort. I had no intention of joining them in their trivial pursuits.
Then the genealogy bug bit me. I don't know when exactly, but I felt a need to start writing down family history. It was slow going at first -- I had no idea where to start. But years of professional experience with the internet tought me some valuable lessons in research. Even if I didn't know what to do, through the World Wide Web I could find someone who did.
It wasn't long before I found what most genealogy 'newbies' discover -- information is out there if you know where to look. That's one secret. The second secret is letting others know what you are doing. Once you enlist the help of others -- family, friends, local historians -- you will begin to break down those "brick walls" that confront all genealogists at one time or another.
I don't consider myself a seasoned genealogist by any stretch of the imagination. But I have learned some valuable lessons; some on my own, some through the assistance of many patient and generous people. I want to share these insights with those of you who are just starting out on the road to discovery.
Prepare yourself mentally and physically. You will be spending considerable time pouring over books and records in libraries, courthouses, and archives depositories, and transcribing many pages of data. You may travel long distances to interview relatives or to walk through endless cemeteries. If you have internet access and email, you may acumulate many dozens of messages from potential leads.
Join an organized genealogy group. Even if you are unable to attend all meetings, keep in touch with group members via phone or mail, and don't be shy about asking for advice. That's the reason they started the group in the first place.
Many people will be happy to help you; others will not. Remember to be patient but persistent with those you ask for information. Keep an open mind to the fact that some family history may have been "forgotten" for a reason, and some memories are too painful to recall. Ask someone else.
Go out of your way to thank everyone who helps you. Many of these folks are volunteers or amateur genealogists just like you, and for some it is a thankless job. Let them know how much you appreciated their assistance, and offer to help them sometime. Words can't describe how good it feels to know you helped someone else knock down a "brick wall" in their research.
Begin your research with yourself. Write down everything you know about your life and that of your immediate family. Include births, marriages, deaths, and any other factual information. Interview as many living relatives as possible. Then work backwards, one generation at a time.
Use the internet. It is a wonderful research tool. Over the past few years, many organizations have been transcribing information for genealogists and posting it on the World Wide Web -- much of which can be accessed for free. If you don't know how to use it, take a class and learn. If you don't have a computer at home, you can use one at your local public library. Chances are you will meet someone else there who shares your passion for family history.
Use your local public library. Most have some sort of local history and genealogy section, stocked with books that you will find useful. Also, there will be staff members and volunteers who can assist you with your research, and if they don't have what you're looking for, thay can direct you to someone who does. The library may also provide free access to internet-based search tools such as ancestry.com. As a library staff member, I cannot stress enough the importance of this valuable resource.
Keep your information organized in a way that is best for you. Although I have many binders full of info, I rely on genealogy computer programs to keep and share records. There are many programs available free or low-cost, and one that even converts your information into HTML or web pages that can be uploaded as a web site. No HTML code-writing experience is necessary to use these programs, and they are easier to use to search for data than any three-ring binder full of stuff.
Last but not least, be patient with yourself and avoid frustration when possible. Put your work aside from time to time and take a break -- it will still be there when you are ready to begin again. This endeavor quite possibly may require many years to complete, depending on how many generations and family branches you wish to cover. Don't set yourself up for failure -- THIS IS NOT A PROJECT YOU WILL COMPLETE IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS OR MONTHS.
I recommend the following book as a reference for anyone just starting their quest for family history:
Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide To Tracing Your Family History by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak.
and the following website:
Cyndi's List - genealogy sites on the internet. Very comprehensive list of websites organized in categories.
Best of luck in your research!
© 2010 Joe Defazio, Uncle Joe's Genealogy
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