Along Those Lines: 12 Genealogical Resolutions
By George G. Morgan
Ancestry Daily News, 31 December 1999
Here it is, the threshold of the year 2000 and I suddenly have
a sense of panic over the things I haven't gotten done in my family
history research. My, how the millennium has flown! Like every
other year's end, this is a time of finales and a time of new
beginnings. While I disagree and say that the next millennium
won't begin until 1 January 2001, there still is a significance
to moving from the "nineteen hundreds" to whatever we'll call
the "two thousands."
In this week's "Along Those Lines . . ." column, I want to offer
twelve suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Please feel free
to borrow them for yourself or pass them on to friends. However,
let me suggest that you select at least one--perhaps more if you
can--and make next year the year you really improve on your genealogical
or family history research skills. That said, let's cut to the
12 NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FOR THE FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCHER
1) INTERVIEW YOUR RELATIVES--One thing many of us postpone until
it is too late is interviewing our relatives. Parents and grandparents
are obvious candidates for obtaining information about your own
branch of the family. However, you have to extend your view to
the "big picture" of your family if you are to achieve the greatest
research success. That means making time to talk with brothers,
sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. The stories
and perspectives you will find will complement the information
you may already have, and you will extend the foundation on which
you build your future hypotheses and conduct your future research.
2) LABEL AND ORGANIZE YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHS--You know how difficult
and frustrating it can be to deal with old family photographs
when they are unlabeled. As hard as you work on old photographs,
think about the family photographic treasures you have created.
Are the vacation pictures organized and labeled? Are school pictures
labeled? Have wedding photographs been labeled with the names
of all the subjects? Yes, that means the names of the guests appearing
in the photographs! You do a disservice to future generations
if you devote yourself to identifying and labeling old pictures
and neglect your own. In fact, doesn't this just create the same
problem for your descendants?
3) USE CORRECT MAPS FOR THE TIME PERIOD YOU ARE RESEARCHING--Make
a commitment to yourself to make absolutely certain you use the
right maps when doing your family history research. For instance,
don't use a contemporary AAA map of South Carolina to determine
what county courthouse to contact to locate a copy of your great-great-grandparents'
marriage certificate. Pickens, South Carolina, wasn't always in
Pickens County, after all. You'll save yourself lots of frustration
and wasted time if you use the right geopolitical map for the
time period in question.
4) JOIN A GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY--Join a society in at least one
area in which you are researching a primary family line. Societies
perform all sorts of research functions. They preserve historical
and genealogical documents, record cemetery inscriptions, publish
journals and share information they have acquired and amassed.
Join one and you will learn a great deal about the area, and you
will probably make valuable contacts to help further your research.
5) READ ONE BOOK--Invest the time next year in reading at least
one book about the history of an area where you are researching
one primary line of your family. By learning more about local
history and events, you will gain a better understanding of your
ancestors' places in history. You may also be able to form better
conclusions for why they settled in one place or moved to another.
6) ESTABLISH A FILING SYSTEM AND USE IT--If you've been postponing
setting up a filing system for all the stacks of documents, photocopies,
pedigree charts, abstracts, and cemetery photographs, why not
make a commitment to organize them? Remember, the system you devise
and begin using today can be reorganized later if your needs change.
The project only gets worse the longer you procrastinate, so why
not start it today?
7) LEARN ABOUT ONE NEW RECORD TYPE--There are a number of record
types that many genealogists never touch. For instance, many people
are intimidated by land and property records and tax rolls. Yet
these are among the most numerous and most revealing of all public
records, providing an ongoing view and confirmation of where our
ancestors were between censuses. During the next year, resolve
to read up on and educate yourself on at least one new type of
record you have never used before. Then get busy and research
at least one ancestor using that new record type.
8) INPUT YOUR SOURCES TO YOUR DATABASE--It's easy to input vital
statistics and other data into the computer database, isn't it?
But the source information can seem to be drudgery to many of
us. However, the source is every bit as important as the data
that you're entering. Why? Because it is an indication of the
real quality of the content being input. Most of us are guilty
of this omission, and the coming year is the time to commit to
going back through what you have entered into the database and
entering source information. During the process, you will also
be reassessing the information you have acquired. There may be
some revelations that point your research in new directions too!
9) ORDER ONE SET OF MILITARY RECORDS--If you have U.S. ancestors
who served in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil
War, World War I, World War II and/or other conflicts, you should
try to learn more about them through their military records. Both
military service records and pension application records can be
vividly enlightening insights into an ancestor's life story. Depending
on the service and the era, there may be records at the National
Archives, at state archives, and at other government locations.
Start by researching the era, then determine where the records
might be held, and write letters. Once you have seen and worked
with these records, you will be hooked on learning more about
every ancestor's service records.
10) VOLUNTEER TO HELP A NOVICE FAMILY HISTORIAN--Consider how
difficult it was for you to learn research methodology and proper
documentation techniques. Then think how much you would have appreciated
some expert help and guidance. You can help a novice learn the
ropes. Some libraries welcome volunteers to serve in this capacity
in their genealogy collection areas, or you might make a new acquaintance
and simply "adopt the newbie." Either way, you will be helping
a new researcher learn the right skills and make more effective
11) SHARE YOUR INFORMATION WITH YOUR FAMILY--Make the time to
share information you have found with other family members. You
may find relatives who share an intense interest in your common
ancestors and who also have information and materials they would
be willing to share. More importantly, share information with
children. Hearing the family stories and sharing in the traditions
can give them a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, and
a perspective of their place in history like no other experience.
12) EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE TO YOUR LIBRARIANS AND ARCHIVISTS--Libraries
are key resources in family history research. While there are
many men and women who work there who understand the research
you have undertaken, many may not have the in-depth knowledge
of genealogical resources and techniques that you, as a veteran
researcher, may have. However, they are your "information brokers"
to help you locate and access information. They are trained to
understand what print resources they have in-house, where to look
for other materials in their library system, and how to help you
locate materials in databases and on the Internet. They really
can't do your research for you, but they are there to help. Resolve
in the coming year to make the time to express your gratitude
to every librarian and archivist for the help they provide. Remembering
them with a plate of cookies goes a long way too!
RESOLUTIONS AND CHANGES
As you can see, resolutions can take many forms. I offer these
twelve as suggestions, and I know you may come up with others.
You may have some that may be more appropriate for you, the specific
types of research you do and the geographies you are researching.
The key, however, is to make changes and improvements in how and
what you research. You should constantly strive toward conducting
scholarly research. This means organizing your approach to family
history studies at all levels, seeking excellent sources, scouring
for quality content, and using precise documentation formats and
standards. Genealogy is a scientific methodology as well as an
enjoyable activity. Resolve to enjoy it, share the fun with others,
and do the very best job you can.
I, too, am making changes as the new year dawns. This "Along
Those Lines . . ." column is my last here in the Genealogy Forum
on America Online. Effective 1 January 2000, the column moves
exclusively to the Ancestry.com Web site at http://www.ancestry.com.
Many of you already know that my column has also appeared there
over the past two years, but I have simply made that venue the
new, exclusive home. The Genealogy Forum on America Online is
a wonderful place, full of friends who have become part of my
family. It is also the home of exciting content and regularly
scheduled online genealogy chats on a tremendous range of subjects.
Even though the column is moving to Ancestry.com, I will continue
to be a member of the Genealogy Forum team. I hope you will continue
to look for the "Along Those Lines . . ." column at it's exclusive
new home at Ancestry.com beginning next week.
In the meantime, let me wish you a Happy New Year and . . .