Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Inheriting Genealogy: 5 steps for new genealogists in genealogy-savvy families

Just because you’re a beginner genealogist doesn’t mean you are the first one to begin. Lots of families already have a great uncle or a grandma who has “done” the family history. No matter how much work they’ve done, there’s a lot more to do. I promise. But there’s no reason to start from scratch if you don’t have to. Here are 5 steps you can take to get started.
My mom inherited most of our genealogy information from her Aunt

1. Get files from the other family genealogists

Family Tree and other genealogy-sharing websites have made this step a lot easier. In Family Tree you can just log on and input information for your living relatives starting with your parents. You shouldn’t be able to find living people, so just add them as new people even if you know they have their own account. As soon as you get back far enough to input a deceased person just switch from add person to find person. If you add a "found" person to your tree, all of their ancestors are added too. It’s great because you can get all the information you need without actually talking to anyone in your family.

Just kidding! You still have to talk to them. Ask around your family for PAF, GEDCOM, and other genealogy files that are not posted on the internet. While a lot of information is posted on genealogy-sharing sites, most genealogists keep their records off the internet so that they can have more control over them (or because they’re still on dial-up). Even if they’ve shared what they have on Family Tree, they probably have a lot more information buried on their computer somewhere. You may have to help them find it. Bring a flash drive with you to get the files, though, because some of them are too big to e-mail and it may take a really long time to upload them onto cloud storage like Dropbox.

2. Compare

If you can find more than one source for your genealogy (i.e. you found stuff on Family Tree and in Aunt Min’s old binder), they probably won’t match. Don’t automatically assume that one source is right and the other one is wrong. More likely, they’re both right and wrong in different places. Don’t start correcting until you’ve done some research. Please don’t call up Aunt Min and tell her that her life’s work is all wrong. Genealogies represent hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of hours of work and probably a fair bit of money too. Treat it with respect.

What you can do is start to make a list of discrepancies. If your sources have different places of birth for someone, you want to remember to find out which one is correct, later, when you’re researching. Keep in mind that the answer may be more complicated than it seems, though. A person can only be born in one place, but the place can change names, they can write down the county instead of the city, and other people can write down the wrong place on official records (especially death records. Relatives that fill out death records aren’t always super acquainted with the deceased).

3. Interview your family

But you already talked to them, I know. Now that you’ve looked at their files hopefully you have other questions. Bring a paper pedigree (or make sure you have your genealogy stuff in front of you when you call) so that you both know which ancestor you’re talking about. Family history conversations can be confusing without a reference point.

Ask about one of the discrepancies you found. You may be able to solve it without doing any further research. Your experienced genealogist relative can probably tell you if one of your ancestors had aliases, or if two places with different names are really the same place. They keep this information in their heads, though, so you have to ask.

It’s a good idea to interview family members that don’t consider themselves genealogists too. You may be the first one to ever ask them about what they know about their family and they probably know more than you’d think.

4. Start your research

When your pedigree goes back to Hans King of Denmark, where do you start? With your closest ancestors, just like everybody else. There are so many more records available now than when your grandma started so start at the beginning. You probably won’t be able to find much for people born after about 1930, though, so don’t get discouraged with a slow start. Just keep looking.

5. Share what you find with the other family genealogists

It’s really important to maintain contact amongst genealogists in the family. Older relatives can help you know what to look for and they can teach you how to read confusing records. You can help them too. Find a way to consistently share the records and information you find with your interested family, through e-mail, or cloud-sharing, or a website. You may have to print out the records and mail them. Choose something that’s easy for your relative. Genealogists keep so much of what they know in their head and your only way to access that information is to keep in contact. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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