The Blog Starts Here: Family History and Genealogy for Beginners

I am starting this blog as an effort at keeping up with my professional pursuits and personal obsession with family history and genealogy. For me, the two are used simultaneously, but also mean different things. Genealogy is just bare-bones surname lineage research with a name, date, place, and that’s about it. You can figure things out from it if you analyze, but most people don’t have the patience for it. Family history is “putting meat on the bones.” I’m not the first to use this, but I can’t remember who it was. If you find out, let me know and I can update this.

What the family history analogy means is adding the family stories and provable documentation to the genealogical bone skeletal structure. I think of metal I-beams in place for concrete pouring when building a structure. You make sure that the walls are steady, and then build your house. Most people start out with the blue prints for a house, (family stories) and they never check the engineering (Was it possible for great Great Grandma to have her picture taken on top of the first building built in Chicago?) Potentially, yes. Where was she born? Did she travel? What was her/her husband’s/father’s/any other relative’s job? Things like this help start piecing such puzzles together.

We go from questions to sources to find out information. The way to do personal family history properly is to look into family sources first and then branch out to established histories, and then directing efforts into primary sources. You find out what Great Aunt Martha knows or whomever has the family stories. Unless you’re the last member of your family alive or the only one that you know about, then you know exactly who to ask for family information. There is always that one person [or two people] who are doing it.

If it’s just you, you don’t have the benefit of the blue prints, but you do have sources. Go directly for the primary information in that case. That means, get your own vital records. Birth record, marriage record if applicable, baptismal record, military, or anything that could be an official source of identification. Make a copy of your driver’s license for your own file. If needed, passports or similar documents. Anything that the government or an ecclesiastical or military body or taxing body (or some other governing jurisdiction of which I am not aware) would use, make sure that you have a copy for yourself and your family members. If it’s just you, get a fire-proof (and hopefully that means water-proof?) safe. Consider it your personal black box. My family used to call this the “Important Papers Box” and it locked with a key. Because we lived in a safer neighborhood when I grew up, the key typically stayed with the box. This is not the best for security reasons, but we wanted to get inside the box. Our box held copies of school transcripts, one copy of the school year photos for the children of the family, birth certificates, and documents with SSNs on them just in case. Granted, this would be a very important papers box, and hence the name.

This is more of a one-family project for present day items, but start building files (portable “important papers boxes”) for your ancestors. Start from the present day and work backwards dependent upon the documentation that you already have. death certificates, funeral programs, obituaries attached to the newspaper header information (or I keep complete newspapers from dates of death as more relatives pass) , and take pictures of tombstones. As you back up in time, add other documents as described above. Make sure that you have the pivotal vital records for family members. If you’re not sure where to find such records, ask me. A later blog may include sources and similar materials to get you where you want to go. In the meantime, this should be enough to get you working. You are a part of your family’s history, too.

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3 thoughts on “The Blog Starts Here: Family History and Genealogy for Beginners

  1. Rick Parker says:

    Great initial article! I have a fireproof/waterproof box with lock for family important papers, and I have started the folder per family to work back and fill in the meat on the skeleton. Looking forward to more of your insights and counsel!!!

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