In the coming weeks we will provide some basic Family Tree Research tips and steps to get the beginner started in their research. Some key points to clarify are:
1. The researcher should not purchase or subscribe to any online Genealogy site until they need to. There is a lot to do before you begin paying and unless you know what you need to know, you will waste time and money unnecessarily.
2. Start by planning what it is you would like to know about your family tree. E.g. your family-name (Surname), family myths/stories, might there be anyone famous? Set some simple objectives.
3. A pencil/pen and paper will suffice. Write down on one sheet what you already know or have in your possession about your family. Start with yourself and add family members and at this stage, stick to simple facts i.e. Names, Relationships, Dates of Births, Christenings, Marriages; Places of Births, Marriages etc. Where possible, obtain copies of any information in Family Bibles, Address Books, Accounts, Certificates, School records, diaries, Family photographs and so on……
4. Talk to your relatives – has anyone else in your family already conducted or is conducting your family’s research? If so, is it worth liaising with them to consider sharing information, research tasks etc? Key Point: keep a record of ‘everything’ you find; later on when you analyse the information, you should be able to clarify and prove fact from fiction – stories may get embellished and added to over the years like Chinese Whispers. You need to have a method of sticking to the facts. Just because ‘someone said so’ doesn’t mean it is the truth/fact. E.g. I had a family story of a relation called Gilbert who died on the Somme. It turned out to be a Hubert who died at Passchendaele. There is no blame here, it is just what my ancestors were either told or not told at the time.
5. On another sheet of paper, A3 size is ideal, draw a simple family tree diagram starting with yourself and working backwards in time! this is a key point. (If you are proficient in using computers, consider a Graphics Pad and Pen. (I use an A3 Graphics pad to draw my family trees and once you become familiar with the process, I find it quick and easy to use. So much better than redrawing again and again with pen and paper)
6. As soon as you are able, contact the eldest members of your family and ask them if they will help you by telling you all they know about the family. If possible arrange to meet, and with their permission, use a video camera and capture the discussions; this will provide invaluable information at a later date but also you will be able to add actual video of your relations
7. Ask to see and obtain copies of any documents, photographs they have. Above all be respectful and patient; let them tell the story in their own way. You can always question them at a later date. Record everything regardless of how you regard its importance; later on it may be just the key to overcome a research problem
8. I now use my mobile phone camera to take images of documents using a Document Scanner Application. I have two Apps, one for scanning photographs/images etc. and another App to scan documents straight to PDF Format. These App make life so much easier to obtain copies of documents, which I later download to my laptop. (If you can embrace technology, the rewards are priceless)
9. Get Organised – decide on how you are going to store your information; electronically is best so search for a Genealogy software package that suits your needs. Be aware that before purchasing software, review it and ensure it fits your needs and the way it works agrees with your way of thinking. I looked at quite a few packages before I settled on Legacy9. I am not advertising here, just that it suited me perfectly. I recommend you view several before making your choice.
When planning how you manage your research information, give some time to consider that in the future you may wish to present your research to your family or friends etc. So, ask yourself, how easy is if for ‘me’ to access the data/info and is it in a Format I can use? E.g. if you were to consider an electronic presentation using Powerpoint, or SWAY or similar tool or maybe you want to have a book published, can you easily get the data/info and where relevant into the program?
10. An essential tool is to keep a Journal – this will provide a valuable tool as your research grows Over time you may forget where you have visited either online websites or physical locations; it is a common issue where researchers have visited, say, a website, did some research only to find they have already done this some time ago. The Journal would contain e.g. Date, Time, Location i.e. web address or Postal address etc. What you searched for and what results where. This is different from returning to a site /location to check for any updates/changes. I keep an Excel Spreadsheet of all sites/locations I visited for research with the details mentioned earlier, date, results etc.
11. At a time suitable to you it is recommended joining a Family History Society – one that is relevant to you. E.g. my family originate from Dorset, so I joined the Dorset Family History Society. Most of research is in Dorset so it made sense for me. The society will offer you help, guidance and support as best they can and you will learn tips and skills from others.
12. To aid your research you will probably need to visit your Local library, county and national archives etc. Ensure you plan your visit and that the location actually holds the information you seek. I once visited the Dorchester Records Office to view documents (WILLS) that their website said they had) and was given (as it turned out bad advice) that the documents I wanted were held at The National Archives Kew London. I dutifully went to Kew only to find out that the documents were actually at Dorchester. (I contacted Dorchester Records Office and complained and had the employee advised accordingly). I then had to return to Dorchester. 436 miles of travel I didn’t actually need!
I hope this helps to get you started in your research. More will be added in due course.
Take your time! Accuracy not speed is the rule!