Monday, July 10, 2006

Rome wasn't built in a day.

Don't expect to understand everything about family history right away. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day and cut yourself some slack when you feel you aren't learning fast enough. Ask questions. The only dumb question is the one we don't ask.

Break family history up into small tasks to accomplish in an hour or 15 minutes. In 15 minutes you could write a letter, add new information to the records of 1 individual. In an hour you could search for one name on the Internet, maybe 2 if you find the information you're looking for quickly. Of course, you could spend that whole hour on one name and not find anything. Large chunks of time aren't necessary to accomplish many tasks connected with family history. However, if you need to go directly to a source, you will need anywhere from all day to several days when you travel to another state or country.

When children are small, it's almost impossible to take them with you when you visit sources. Perhaps you could trade data entry with someone who is able to travel more in connection with family history for research services. There are older researchers who don't like to work with computers, and would really appreciate such an arrangement.

Include older children in cemetery searches by making a game out of it. I've known researchers who offer their children a dollar to the first one that finds the target tombstone. The reward doesn't have to be money. You know your children, and can choose an appropriate reward. If you're including family history in the family vacation, plan your time, and plan your research so the children don't get too restless.

Everyone needs to plan each research trip carefully. Make the most out of every minute of your trip. Here are some steps to plan your trip:

  1. Decide destination. (Could be just around the corner to your public library)
  2. Gather the information you'll need to take along
  3. Call to find out hours, days open, do they have the record, fees, ect.
  4. Decide when to go
  5. Pack a family history bag with the information you need, any forms you want to take along, pens, pencils, scratch paper, water, snack (to eat outside the library), and, very important, your method of choice of recording sources for any information you find.

Keeping good records is very important. You may need to find that record again for some reason. All dates and facts need to be verified with documentation. Make a copy of the record, either photocopy or by hand. Photocopying is the preferred way because errors can sneak in when copying manually from one page to another. I can't emphasize the importance of keeping good records often enough. The records need organization so they can be found again. There are many different ways to organize family history. The link at the bottom of this post connects with a list of web sites with free forms and methods of organization. There are also some fee sites, but you can usually find what you're looking for free.

Take your time, study, and play with the various forms and organization methods. Once research starts it's amazing how fast the paper piles grow. Without an organizational method you're able and want to use consistenly, it'll be a daunting task to change the way your files are organized. I know, because I face that daunting task. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't start compiling a large amount of information until I had a good way to keep track of where and when I found that information. The system has to fit you or it won't get used.

Click for forms.

Dale L. Edwards

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