[Editor’s note: Saving Memories Forever blogger Stephanie Pitcher Fishman gives you five easy steps to help make your family history research painless, organized, and fun.]
Are you hoping to spend more time researching your family’s history this year? Genealogy is one of the nation’s fastest growing hobbies, yet many don’t know quite where to start. There are websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch to help you research online from the comfort of your own home. Magazines and books can give you the skinny on a good resource or software program to help move your research forward. But, how do you manage your family history project on your own in a way that is fun and relaxing? Easy: Gather, Talk, Plan, Record, and Relax! These five steps will have you gliding through the decades as you discover your family stories.
Step One: Gather what you know
Start from the beginning – you – and work backward in time through the generations. Break out your genealogy forms and fill out as much as you know. Pedigree charts are a great way to organize your information. They can help you quickly identify the information that you need. Don’t forget to look through your home for what are commonly called home sources: Family Bibles; birth, marriage, and death certificates; scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings; high school and college yearbooks; and more. All of these items can help you locate clues that point you to a town of residence, an estimated year of birth, or a household of names.
Step Two: Talk to your relatives and long-time family friends
You’ve heard Uncle Earl’s family story every year since you were five, but have you really listened? Family stories are filled with clues. Just like with home sources above, stories can give us a possible direction to continue our hunt. And, they add rich details that records, such as a census, just can’t. Don’t forget the long-time family friends as well. Sometimes we are blessed with what I call chosen family. These individuals are just as important to our family story as those related by genetics. They can help us understand our ancestors in a special way. While you are talking with your relatives and friends, don’t forget to use the Saving Memories Forever App to capture those memories as part of your family’s legacy. Recording the voice of our loved ones talking about an ancestor unknown to us can help bridge the generations.
Step Three: Make a Plan
Once you understand the starting point of your project, the next step is to determine where you need to look to discover more about your family. You can’t have a successful journey if you don’t have a road map. It’s time to create your research plan. Perhaps you realize that you don’t know exactly where your grandfather was born. This could be your first goal. What type of record could help you find this information? Make a list of what you need to locate and where these records could be found. Research plans don’t have to be intimidating or overly detailed. Use them as a tool, and you’ll supercharge the time available to you to explore your family history project.
Step Four: Record your progress by taking good notes
Your research notes will be your paper trail should you take a break from your project. They will also help any other family member catch up should they help you in your hunt. And, it is very easy to forget that you’ve searched an online database or website if it isn’t written down. Your research time is precious; don’t duplicate steps simply because you’ve forgotten something. Let your notes guide you! If you like using technology beyond paper and pen, consider exploring Evernote, a software program which is handy for the family researcher (free version available.)
Step Five: Take a break and Relax!
Family historians are known for many things, but one of the most common traits is that we don’t know when to stop and take a break. The easiest way to become burned out is to chase the same nearly-missing ancestor for hours on end. You’ll quickly feel like you have no hope in finishing your project. Don’t forget to take a break! Stop for a cup of coffee or a walk, and, if necessary, take a break by looking for another ancestor in the same record set or geographic location. A little rest does the heart of a researcher good. You’ll become energized and ready to take on the next task on your project list.
Bonus: Share your stories
One way to energize a project (and a researcher!) is to share what you’ve learned. Reach out to your loved ones to let them know what you’ve found. While not all of your relatives may be ready to research alongside you, they will love to hear what you’ve discovered. Saving Memories Forever would love to hear your stories as well! Share them with us in the comments below or on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to celebrate your discoveries with you. Good luck, and have fun!