Genealogy can be tough. Its vast amount of information can stump even the most seasoned professionals because often time without documentation, one can only theorize rather than prove. Families immigrate and change their surnames which can make searching difficult. Families get divorced or separate but there would be no paper trail. There are so many records that have not been digitized, which makes the hunt even more of a challenge. It’s a frustrating process for everyone but the reward at the end makes the journey worth it.
I wouldn’t say that I am a seasoned professional. I’ve perused the digital archives and newspapers, been in touch with local paper archives, joined a few Facebook groups and messages boards and interviewed relatives. I’ve expanded my parameters as best I could with the resources I have. Although my hunting is currently on a back burner, I continue to leisurely browse key areas of interest within my family tree. When I was actively searching, there were a few tips that really helped me on my journey to discovering my lineage.
Connect, connect, connect.
When I first began researching my husband’s side, I began a free trial of Ancestry’s databases. I soon discovered an array of information, and some of it lead me to some message boards that were located within the website. There I searched his surname, and a few threads popped up of people researching the exact family that I was and were eager to exchange information. I was able to share a photo of someone’s great grandfather that they didn’t know existed, and in exchange they shared a family portrait from the 1870s – quite remarkable. This information wouldn’t have been possible without the connections with these people.
Write down information, even if you’re not sure it’s accurate.
This gives you a beginning. The dates may not add up correctly, the name may not be spelled the way it should be or the person is actually a junior or a senior version of the person you’re trying to discover, but having a little bit of information is better than none at all. Everything can be corrected when the correct documentation is discovered, trust me.
Prove everything before you finalize your tree.
Have multiple sources to back up your claims. Imagine you’re a lawyer. Lawyers have key pieces of evidence to back up their theories and make other people believe and see their point of view. Have census records, birth and death certificates, photographs and other sources to help support your claims.
Keep a paper copy of your tree.
Having an archived book or binder with snippets of your tree will help keep you organized and focused. Divide each family into their own section, and pose a series of questions at the beginning of the section. It’ll be easier to refer back to this paper copy. Include photos and diagrams for easier recognition.
Download your gedcom tree to your hard drive.
That way if anything happens to it online, you’ll have a back up copy on your computer and all your hard work will be preserved.
Continuously ask questions.
How did they get here? Where does the lineage end and how far can it be traced back? What did they do for work? Where did they move? What events were around while they were alive that could’ve influenced how they lived? All these questions factor into the way your ancestors lived, and the decisions they made to get there.
Try to visit historical areas in person.
Cemeteries, previous land locations, old towns… all these areas can be goldmines for retaining archived foot prints of the past. You may see your relatives initials carved into the bar at the small restaurant in town, or view their once farm now a commercial box store and become slightly depressed. Either way the adventure is worth the trip – you’ll never know what you’ll discover.
Analyze family heirlooms for hidden secrets.
Ever wonder where some old photos wound up? Are your grandparents birth certificates really gone forever? Check out bottoms of jewelry boxes for hidden compartments, loose floorboards for envelopes, money or letters between the pages of old books and so on. Going through their belongings not only helps you gain a sense of who they were, but may help you find some cool artifacts along the way!
What advice do you have for a budding new genealogist? Let me know below!