A new year is here, and it’s time to set new goals for exploring your family history. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Interview an Elder More than Once
You may have already begun to conduct your oral history, but one of the basic rules of genealogy is—interview the elders and interview them often. Asking questions is important because it gets you started. But—go back to visit the same person again. This time, share with them what you have found. If you found their name on a census record print it—enlarge it, and let them see their own name on a record. Show them the family and let them see who the neighbors were at the time. It will most likely jar their memory and they may start to share more right then!
Get your Genealogy Tools: Charts, Maps, Photos
As you start to collect your data—make sure that you record your data on two types of charts: 1) pedigree chars, and 2) family group sheets. Pedigree charts will always be a good way to see where you are in time, and how many generations back you are. Family group sheets will help you keep track of the various siblings of your ancestors. For example if your grandmother had 7 siblings, and each of them married and had children of their own, you need to keep track of them with invidual family group sheets that allow you to record their names, their spouses and their children. Remember those children are your cousins and grandma’s siblings are great uncles and aunts.
Get Some Maps-It is important to know where your ancestors lived including city, county, state. However, where are those places. Find that township on a map, study the county and learn what counties are neighbors to the one where the ancestors lived. Your family did not live in a vacuum, they lived in a community and knowing where they lived will help you to understand their lives much better. Were they close to a large river, or in a mountainous area? The geographic features often have an influence on some aspects of their lives.
Collect photos and Take photos
It is always a joy to look through an old photo album of family. And of course holiday gatherings are always great ways of taking new photos of loved ones. But—as we capture the people—remember to capture the places. Take a photo of the house—even the old house where the family once lived. If you have a chance to visit the old hometown—take a photo of the old family church, and the old homestead., the old school, and even the old downtown—the commercial district. All of those were places where your ancestors lived and worked. Visit the cemetery, and take photos of not only the headstone, but of the other stones nearby, of the front gate of the burial ground and the sign marking the name of of it.
Remember Tell Your Story
As you collect your data—remember you are on a journey to find out things. Your family members might not be thrilled to see an old census form, but they might find it interesting to hear about your road trip to visit the old hometown, and how your found the old church. That is part of your story. You are collecting information, but family will love to hear about how you found an old house to learn that it was the old homestead. Before showing them a census record with all of the aunts and uncles—they will enjoy hearing about the old man who told you a story about your grandpa that you never knew.
These are a few tips to help you in the New Year. Make a new commitment to find the family and tell their story. A wonderful adventure awaits you!