Scott’s Continuing “Real World” Tips for Genealogists/Family Historians: Second in the Series
Hi everyone! This is edition number two of my four-part series on my ‘Real World’ tips for those of us who love and enjoy working on our family history, ancestry, and genealogy. My goal is to keep my tips easy and inexpensive!
You can check out the first article in my series of ‘Real Tips’ right here on Huffington Post, United Kingdom by clicking here.
I hope this next set of ten tips help folks as much as the first ten tips did and as much as they have helped me during my years of discovering my family tree’s roots and branches through Onward To Our Past®.
- Make up a KISS Kit. I suggest you can skip the extensive, expensive ‘genealogy travel kits’ and try my KISS (keep it simple, stupid) kit: A car window brush/scraper, a small flashlight on your keychain, and a magnifying glass. For 90% of my genealogy outings, these are all I need. The car tool comes in very handy when I visit cemeteries and even if I am in a rental car, there is always one tucked away someplace, so be sure to check the boot and the glove box. I can use the soft brush end to remove dust and surface dirt safely and the scraper end works as a cutter to remove any sod that might be encroaching on a flat grave marker. Even the smallest of flashlights will help you in dimly lit archives and with trying to discern weathered and worn etchings on gravestones. A magnifying glass is worth its weight in gold and I have one for my desk and one in an old cotton sock that stays in my briefcase for travel.
- Keep a ‘genealogy helpers list’ and make it portable. I have what I call my Genealogy Helpers List, which is made up of folks who have helped me along my genealogy journey. I keep it on my smart phone and it links to my laptop and iPad so I have it everywhere I might need it. Since I like to collaborate and am blessed with help from so many, many folks at any given time, I keep this list of anyone who has helped me out over the years. I constructed it with only two columns. The first column is the helper’s name and contact information. The second column is what they may be working on. Their surnames, issues, locations, etc. This way if I stumble across something that might be of interest to them, or I discover a document they need from an archive I am visiting, snap a photo of a church or village, etc. I can repay their kindness by passing along my learning. Additionally, it is a super way to say thank you or perhaps to simply ‘pay it forward’ when I have some extra time.
- Build trust. Always do your best to establish, build on, and then nurture trust in your genealogy work. This is true both for your data and documentation as well as for your relationships with those we work with now, and those for future generations for whom we are leaving our work.
- Never burn a bridge. My dad, God rest his soul, pounded this one into my head as a youth and well into my early work career. It has served me very well since then with family, friends, career, and especially genealogy. Networking is everywhere, especially in genealogy and you simply never know when you will circle back in your life.
- If you have one, weld your camera to your wrist. Well maybe not literally, but never, ever, and I do mean never, leave home without your camera! While lots of folks argue this point with me due to the caliber of camera-phones today, there are just too many things you can do with a good camera that you can’t do as well with a camera in your phone. Poor lighting and demanding conditions abound in our work. Archives where they may well demand no flash use, churchyards where there may be sun glare or strong shadows, church interiors, stain glass windows, and other locations can be a challenge. I also suggest you will want to take your photographs in as high a resolution as possible so you can blow up your image as big as you want for close-up investigating. Personally I love the new 36 gig and larger media cards too. Plus, especially if we are far from home on an expensive excursion, it just is not worth taking a chance with less than optimal equipment and missing the best capture we can of a digital memory/image.
- Post here, post there, post everywhere! When you are working online don’t forget to post queries here, there, and everywhere (and use that for-all-time email address from my first set of tips). If you are like me, you have your favorite message boards, chat rooms, etc. for your genealogy. For me, I happen to really appreciate Delphi for my Czech/Bohemian branches, ItalianGenealogy.com for my Italian branches, and Curiousfox.com for the United Kingdom, but I also make certain I post my queries to the mainline boards such as on Ancestry.com, rootschat, and others. You just never know who checks which ones and when someone new may enter the world of genealogy and see your post. I have had posts answered 3, 4, and even 5 years after I posted them!
- Don’t overlook academic journals and offline resources in your research. While it may seem that the ‘big boys’ of genealogy online such as Ancestry, findmypast, GoogleBooks, and FamilySearch, almost like the Sherwin-Williams paint logo, ‘cover the globe’, remember that there are more records NOT online than there are. Many, especially older academic journals, frequently are not online. Many Masters Theses and Doctoral dissertations are not online. Many older records, which have less ‘demand’, are not online and certainly the records of many countries or areas within a country are not online. So be thorough in your research both online and offline!
- Don’t assume! We all remember that old adage “When you assume, it makes an ass out of u and me”. So, especially in genealogy, do NOT assume anything. Pursue theories, but don’t simply assume anything to be true or accurate until you have completed your ‘reasonably exhaustive search’.
- Life is not a bed of roses, so expect the thorns. Remember there are a million or more good reasons for that old expression “Sh*t happens!’ I am often surprised by folks who always expect their genealogy to connect to Royalty, the Mayflower, or some specific indigenous group. Not everyone does. Not every family poured forth in perfect harmony, maintained unity, or whose members were born with an iron will and work ethic. Some failed. Some faltered. Some divorced. Some cheated. Some, like my great grandfather, simply disappeared. So remember that our ancestors’ paths may well have been bumpy, convoluted, and not always lead us to the ‘Yellow Brick Road’, but the truth shall be what sets us free!
- Pursue your genealogy/family history like a marathon, not as if it is a 100m sprint. Remember as you work on your family tree and your family history that genealogy is much more of a marathon than a sprint. Just as there are differences between Usain Bolt and Stephen Kiprotich, so it is with working on family history/genealogy. It takes time to do a world-class job on our family histories and that should be the goal of each of us. So don’t race, but set a pace. Take your time and enjoy the scenery even if, at times, the route seems to be long and arduous. Keep at it with a pace that fits you and then just keep on going!
Watch this space for the next edition of Scott’s “Real World” tips and let me know what you think of these, please!