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When your grandfather told long-winded stories about his youth, were you the sole family member who actually listened? If so, you might be the perfect candidate for recording your family history!
Genealogy, the study of family lineage and history, was once used primarily to distinguish royal blood lines from those of the masses. Today, many individuals have taken up genealogy as a hobby, tracking down everything from historical records to personal belongings in a quest to discover more about their origins. The advent of the internet and the digitalization of historical records has made this pastime more accessible than ever before.
Has genealogy piqued your interest? Follow these simple beginner’s tips to get started today!
Begin with the basics.
Before delving into deep internet research, start with who and what you already know. Write down basic facts and begin speaking with your living relatives about their memories. Today, it’s easier than ever to film or record the audio of your family members recounting their pasts. Though dates and facts are important, focus on capturing the experiences of your relatives’ lives. What are your sister’s best high school memories? How did your uncle endure the hardships of growing up in poverty? By recording these precious tales, future generations will be able learn more about their family history. Don’t neglect to record your own personal narrative as well!
In addition to recording oral histories, search your own home and contact family members to organize documents and meaningful personal belongings that are relevant to your family’s past. Such resources might include photos, journals, letters, wedding certificates, yearbooks, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and more. Create an organizational system that works best for you. Begin filing documents away into relevant categories and digitizing old paper resources. Collaborate with other family members to identify and label the individuals mentioned and depicted in these resources.
The majority of genealogical research that you do will likely be performed online. It is therefore equally important to organize your digital resources and research materials. Consider using online tools to begin outlining the basics of your family tree or storing the genealogical data that you already have. If you’re comfortable working with spreadsheets, think about setting one up to organize important names and dates. Though you may need to modify your organizational system over time, your future self will thank you for having a framework from the outset.
Formulate questions and set manageable goals.
Genealogical research can easily become an all-consuming hobby. After just a few generations a family tree might branch off into dozens, if not hundreds, of different directions. It can be particularly easy to become sidetracked and overwhelmed by the myriad research possibilities in front of you.
To prevent distraction, set yourself a single, concrete research goal for each day. Focus on a particular relative and ask yourself a relevant question. Are you looking to find immigration records for your paternal grandmother? Do you want to track down the tombstone of your great-grandfather? Set a goal and don’t allow yourself to get distracted. If you come across other interesting leads, take note of them and pursue them during your next research session. By focusing on one topic at a time, you’ll be more likely to make meaningful progress on your work.
Utilize free resources.
Many individuals who delve deep into the world of genealogy pay to pursue their hobby. Subscriptions to popular genealogy websites can quickly add up. Many travel to complete their research as well. Fortunately, there are also many free resources available for beginners and experts alike. Census records can often be accessed without charge. FamilySearch, a genealogy website sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provides free access to billions of online genealogical resources. The organization also has Family History Centers available worldwide, in which visitors can receive one-on-one assistance and access numerous subscription genealogy sites for no extra cost. By seeking out these free resources and others, you can get a taste for genealogy without breaking the bank.
Genealogy is a fascinating hobby. By starting with what you know and gradually branching off into more difficult research topics, you can discover more about your family, their stories, and your roots. By investing time in researching your family history, you’ll be investing in your family’s future, too.
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