Welcome back! I am Scott Phillips of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services and this is the third in my series of four articles titled “Scott’s Tips for the ‘Real World’ Family History and Genealogy Fan”.
I am pleased to be sharing many of my favorite tips here on Huffington Post United Kingdom free to anyone. You can find my first ten free genealogy tips here and my second ten free genealogy tips here. The purpose of these tips is to provide inexpensive, useable ideas to help what I call ‘real world’ folks – those of us with limited funds and limited time. I focus on keeping them valuable, yet simple and as cheap as possible! So welcome back and I hope my third series of tips is helpful. So here they are:
- Toss the term genealogy in the trash bin. Somewhere along the line there was a movement to differentiate genealogy and family history and family history got the short end of the stick (IMNSHO). I say bring it back and assign ‘genealogy’ to the dust bin, or at least to the dusty recesses. When I start a conversation and use the word ‘genealogy’ more often than not eyes glaze over, sighs ensue, and folks are looking for a quick exit. If it is children, the look resembles more either that of a deer-in-the-headlights or as if I am introducing them to some dreadful school subject. The word ‘genealogy’ is way too cold and impersonal. Then I discovered that when I began to use ‘family history’ I was seeing smiles, heads nodding in understanding, and folks beginning to engage with me! So I suggest you pitch genealogy and get on with your family history.
- Avoid jargon. Since you are out at the dust bin now, I suggest you may want to toss the jargon we get caught up in there as well. Or at least keep it for when you are talking to another true aficionado. Sure, we can dazzle folks with our understanding of ‘agnate’ and ‘enate’. Of the intricacies of cousins, three times removed and more. But the fact of the matter is that we will lose far more folks’ interest if we use these terms than if we use ‘real world’ terms like ‘related on the male side’, ‘related on the female side’, and ‘cousin’. Likewise when I brought up the idea of ‘genea-tourism’ family trip it fell deader than a doornail, but when I switched to describing it as a ‘family history vacation’ it was met with great support.
- Be flexible, because one size does not fit all in family history. I learned this tip when I was beginning to really enjoy photography. I quickly realized that to get great photos of my grandsons I could not do that on my level standing up. I needed to be on their level. At first it was on my belly when they were newborns. Then on my knees as they began to crawl and walk. Now I find myself kneeling a lot to get a good shot. You get the idea. It is the same when we are working on our family history. We must find the best, mutually beneficial level to work on together. This means we must become flexible in our approach to each person we work with if we hope to get them engaged and enthused over our family history.
- Be inclusive in your family tree. The purpose of my family tree, which I keep online at MyHeritage.com since I love their security and they have a world-class focus on being a true family social network, is to be welcoming and of interest and use by our entire family, worldwide. This means I include in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. in as full a measure as I possibly can. Over the years I have learned that one of the easiest ways to lose an interested family member is to ignore some portion of their family. So I suggest you use the mantra ‘family is family’ and get them all on your tree.
- Respect copyright laws. It is important to remember that just because you find something online that does not make it ‘fair game’ for your use. Photographs are the copyright-protected artwork of the person who took them. Likewise original works written by other researchers are their work. It only takes a few seconds to ask permission for appropriate use. Don’t just take something simply because it is online. Get to know your copyright laws in your country and respect them. If we want our work respected, we need to respect others.
- Be proud of your passion. One of the constant challenges I hear from folks is that they are perplexed when it comes to thinking about who it could be that might carry their family history torch after they pass on. If we share our passion for family history far and wide with everyone in the family, then there is a far greater chance that someone will catch the same level of love for family history that we have and carry on. Plus if we have constructed our family tree electronically (see my first set of tips) it will be far easier for them to continue our work. Passion for our pastime is contagious and easy to pass on if you just let it show. Be proud and wear it on your sleeve as they say.
- Focus on the fun in family history. If we want others to capture the passion we share for family history, then it is incumbent on us to also show everyone how fun it is! In my case, in order to do this I write and email a Family Update every week. I send this out to the 200+ family members who have joined me on our family website. I pass along whatever is new in the family tree and what I may have learned in the past week. I ask questions and beg for input – and it works terrifically! At times I also have included family history quizzes and I always ask questions. Add to this the fact that I have created family history games for our major family gatherings and the fun is evident. For example, this past Thanksgiving, while my wife and I hosted 24 family members for our Thanksgiving feast, no one was allowed to get dessert unless they participated in my family history game. I was nervous doing this at first, but the game was a huge hit from the youngest, who is just 3 years old, to our family matriarch at 92! Making our family history fun shows everyone that family history is something they can really enjoy when they join in.
- Go beyond the data and capture the persona. While we know there is significant value in the names, dates, and data of our ancestors, it is the stories, photos (if you are lucky enough to have some), and the lives and times of our ancestors that really help us to capture the essence of who they were. Focusing on the heritage, culture, values, times, and lives of our ancestors, in addition to their facts and figures, truly is what will make your family tree come to life. I think of my family tree as a quilt and I need to do my best to create as wonderful a square for each member as I possibly can.
- Don’t forget to go international, national, regional, state, county, and local. As you undertake your research I strongly suggest that you start with the big picture then as you gather more and more information geographically narrow your further research. Don’t forget that there are genealogy societies that focus internationally all the way down to towns, villages and even neighborhoods of large cities. I have found, consistently, that many very small Societies often hold very large finds. Likewise don’t overlook those Societies and groups that specialize in single surnames, guilds, religions, and the like.
- More can be more. Often I read about the suggestion that when you use search engines ‘more is less’ as Mies van de Rohe said. However, I have found that often ‘more is more’. For example, I had undertaken a number of searches on my wife’s great uncle and found quite a bit of information, but it wasn’t until I added the term ‘author’ along with his name into the search box that the search engine found the many books he had written or co-authored. So I suggest you remember that while less can be more, more can be more too, at least in search results.
There you have them. Combined with my first two articles in this series, you now have 30 tips to help you make the most of your family history and genealogy work. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.
Watch for the fourth and final installment in this series of tips for all us ‘real world’ family historians!
Onward To Our Past®