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 Getting Started

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How To Get Started In Genealogy

From Dave:

I will assume that by the time that you have clicked on the Internet for help with tracing your ancestors, you have already scoured all available family records such as family Bibles, emptied all the boxes in the attic that your grandparents left you, and interviewed your aunt Minerva out at the “home.” All of these things will help get you started and provide you with the basis for your quest. Some of this information will be inaccurate. Even names and dates in the trusty family Bible are sometimes just wrong. Occasionally you will see someone listed as the daughter when in fact she was the mother. We have certainly seen it in our search. Always, always keep an open mind. Scrutinize what you find and take very little data as gospel if it comes from just one source- even if it is the U.S. Census.

There is a huge amount of information that you will glean from networking with folks you meet on genealogy bulletin boards on the Internet. I think Donna has gotten more and better information through distant relatives than trips to libraries and cemeteries. We have met several cousins whom we did not know we had. We found a first cousin of my dad's that didn't know of his existence. My dad and his cousin lived 5 miles apart. This is what happens when Catholics marry outside the faith. Or they divorce. Some cousins are very helpful in filling in large blanks in the tree, and many have amazing photos dating back into the middle 1800's. Some have original letters written from Andersonville prison during the Civil War; some have histories or bios of relatives that make them come alive. Naturally there is chaff mixed in with the wheat, and you will sometimes have to compare findings from different sources to get the true picture. Some genealogy searchers are very scholarly and take a terribly no-nonsense approach. Others paint with a wide brush. One nice thing about genealogy is that you can approach it from many different aspects and go as far as you want. Some people end up zeroing in on a particular branch of their family and really digging up as much info as they can. On occasion, these searches have led to historical novels or non-fiction works.

You can organize your findings in a program like FAMILY TREE MAKER which lets you display your tree in several different views as well as print them out. For years, Donna has kept scrapbooks that have become voluminous because of all the photos and ancillary material she includes like maps of where these people lived, letters, et cetera. In order to eliminate some of the redundancy in her growing email correspondence, she consented to let me put much of her information on the Internet in the form of a personal genealogy website, and that is how we arrived here. There are many of these sites on the Net to serve as models and inspiration. They allow interested parties to see what you have and contact you for further input. People can often download from these websites any photos or pedigrees that are included and go to any links that you have provided to related family sites, et cetera.

Let me offer a few last words of advice. When you go on a genealogy field trip, whether it is to a library, a county courthouse, or a cemetery, these are items that we have found most helpful to bring along:

1. Digital camera. This is not only for taking photos of headstones, but they often take better copies of documents than the copying machines available.

2. Notepad and pen. This is self explanatory.

3. Small whisk broom. Many times you will need to clean off debris and leaves from a “flush in the ground” grave marker.

4. Small pruning scissors. These are for cutting grass away from tombstones and markers in order to photograph them.

5. Flashlight. This is for looking under shrubs and overgrown tombstones.

6. Binoculars for canvassing cemeteries.

7. Laptop computer for connecting to the Internet at night in the motel to correlate your new findings with known information.

8. Your notes about the ancestors you are researching and any instructions for locating the cemetery, the tombstone, the library, the ancestral home, etc.

From Donna:

Two important things to keep in mind in genealogy research are first that you are equally related to both your male and female relatives and second that you are equally related to all your grandparents who are in the same generation, not just the grandparents whose surname you bear.

I use a FAMILY TREE MAKER software package to organize my data. Some of the free genealogy packages on the Net are quite nice, but none of them yet have the features to manipulate data like FAMILY TREE MAKER. Even when you are just starting, you need a place to record and organize your data.

I have listed websites that I consider to be very helpful in genealogy research on the LINKS page of this website. All the recommended sites are free and are currently functioning.

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