In thinking of someone just beginning their research of family history, a few suggestions to consider. What kind of person are you? Detailed, precise, thorough? Or laid back, taking life as it comes and hating the tediousness of too much detail? Basic attitudes and abilities mesh differently in people, and there is no one perfect way to do family history. Each person finds their own way in time. Most people welcome helpful hints.
Here are the important things I want to share after a life-time of researching records.
- Get organized in your office as you gather records, so you have a system of recording them so they don’t get lost. Maybe type records into a computer genealogy program you can buy. I used Family Tree Maker for years and can recommend it, but there may be better ones, but I no longer keep up on that. However, one might use one offered free by the big genealogy giants. Be very careful with these giants, as I had my own work stolen by one who produced it as though I was a willing participant, and then wants to charge me to access my own information.
As a visual learner, I like things in print, so prefer to store records in two-inch binders, sometimes using plastic sleeves for protection of important pages. My own family history is stored this way, with a backup on the computer and on discs. I’ve also published one book about my family history. I’ve tried using file cards, file folders with loose papers; hand writing on family group sheets and pedigree charts. Now I use Access databases and MS Word Documents and prefer transferring all records to a website so others can share in my discoveries. Having someone protect and manage that website and extend it beyond my own life matters to me. Also protecting the work of others shared with me.
Who will prolong and protect your own family history? Give careful thought to that, and even update your will so your work will not be lost. Updating your records in this library’s archives would be helpful. I also recommend sending it to the Mormons in Salt Lake City, which I consider the best genealogy library in the world. I am not a Mormon. Make sure your records are stored safely, possibly in several locations where they will not be destroyed by fire, flood, or the aging of the passing of time. Having them stored in several media types will help with that.
2. Begin with yourself by gathering documents to prove who you are. Do the same as you expand your search outward to your own siblings, and then your parents. Don’t just assume from personal knowledge. There may be secrets to uncover. Oh did that happen to me. Family members may not want to share information, such as birth certificates, marriage records and so on. Always guard private information about anyone who is still living. Remember this if you choose to post your family history over the Internet or want to tell others. There are hackers who are stealing confidential information for their own illicit purposes.
3. In time you will find it helpful if you focus on one side of your family, be it the father’s line (paternal) or mother’s (maternal) line in research. Always try to find a document to prove every step of your research, but be aware that not all information will be accurate on those records. It depended on the person providing the information and sometimes that recorder made mistakes. I am remembering a travelling minister who performed a marriage but later recorded the witness as the groom and groom as witness. Also, questions asked on records may have changed from year to year, so watch for that on census studies in particular. Finding more than one record to prove something helps clarify things. On this site, I have done that with official government records taking precedence over others.
4. It may be your family history has already been researched by someone else. Have you checked with this office? Be sure to look at Rootsweb.com for its databases. In particular, many Gillespie family trees have been researched yet I see people inquiring about them as a newcomer without realizing that. However, the other person’s research may not completely agree with what you find in your own studies. That is true of my own family history. Don’t be upset; Just use it for ongoing deeper research, a challenge to ensure greater accuracy and understanding. Figuring out the genealogy puzzles of life, and having greater appreciation for the history of the past bring great satisfaction.
5. Finally, family history research can provide some of the happiest moments in life. Visiting cemeteries, communicating with others across the world, and travelling to Scotland and Ireland to visit the land of my great grandparents, who arrived in Canada as early as 1828, are the highlights for me, as well as the work on this website.