So, was one of your New Year’s resolutions to get started on your family history? If it was, great; if it wasn’t, why not? Researching your ancestors is one of the fastest growing hobbies (although I hesitate to call it that) in North America. Companies like Ancestry and Findmypast are making genealogical records available, and making money while doing it. Who would have thought it would come to this? When Calgary Public Library purchased a collection of census records on microfilm, it made the papers, now those very records can be searched by name online. It is nearly painless – or so it would appear at the outset. However, if you have made a resolution to start your family history, I want to give you a little bit of advice so that you can fall in love with genealogy research, rather than becoming so frustrated that you completely abandon it. The wealth of information available on the internet and through subscription services like Ancestry is both a blessing and a curse. That we have this information at our fingertips is the good part. The bad part is that we have ALL this information at our fingertips, and it can be quite overwhelming to sort through the 20,000 hits you get from your first search attempt on Ancestry. So here are a few pointers for you newbies out there:
- Start with yourself. This seems kind of silly when you already know everything about yourself, but recording all of your information can provide important clues to where to look for the information about those who went before. It is a lot easier to look for information when you have a specific question in mind. So, write down your data - name, birthdate, spouse, children, parents. It helps to have it in a pedigree chart, so that when you are asking for help, or need to remind yourself of what you’re doing, you have the relationships and basic information at a glance. You can find blanks of pedigree charts all over the internet but the Canadian Genealogy Centre has a nice, clear chart that contains the basic information you will need to proceed.
- Start organizing before you have anything to organize. It pays to have an organizational system in place before you collect so much information that entering it or filing it becomes an overwhelming chore. (Trust me on this one) You may choose to use software to keep you organized and you may want to keep your records as paper copies. Either way, it really does help to have a strategy in place for storing and retrieving before you actually get started.
- Once you have all that you know written down, decide what information you would like to find out about which ancestor. Write these questions down so you will have something to help you focus on task and less likely to be sidetracked by all the cools stuff you will find.
- Find a good how-to guide for the area you are researching. You will need to find out what kinds of records are available, where they are and how you access them. Keep in mind that not everything is digitized. I can’t tell you the number of times I have come across a defeated genealogist who has been searching online sources in vain for information that simply is not there. Check the websites of genealogical societies in the area or check out mega-sites like Cyndi’s List to see what is out there.
- Document your sources. I know this sounds like high school but when you want to go back to your records, because your research has lead you to believe that the person listed on the page below your ancestor is actually in your family tree, you will want to find that source again. We have, on occasion, been able to identify the source of a photocopied page for a customer, but that is sheer luck, and while luck can’t be discounted in the pursuit of ancestral information, it most often comes to the well prepared.
- Finally, keep in mind that a problem shared is a problem solved. There are any number of places where you can meet like-minded researchers who will only be too glad to help you. We are obviously your first choice <grin>. We offer Family History Coaching on the last Saturday of the month from 10 to noon on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Volunteer coaches and library staff are available to help you with your questions, no matter what your level of research. Our volunteers come from the Alberta Family Histories Society, which is also a great resource for genealogists. You can attend their meetings on the first Monday of each month or you can do research at their library and get help from the dedicated volunteers there. Check out their website for details. There is also help to be had at the Family History Centers in Calgary. These are connected with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose efforts in finding, preserving and making available (free of charge) records from around the world are making genealogy research a much less daunting task. Check out their site. In addition to the records themselves, they have a great wiki that can help you learn about all aspects of genealogy in most countries of the world.
Details of a personal postcard "Greetings from Calgary"
Postcards from the Past, PC 1046
So, there is your New Year’s Resolution tied up. Come visit us at the Central Library for information, assistance or advice. We are always glad to have you.