Advice for Beginning Genealogy
- I can tell you what prompted me to research my own genealogy. I needed to "know" who I was, who I came from, and where my families have lived. During my youth I wasn't particularly proud of my parents because they were alcoholics. But in the back of my mind, I just knew that not all of my ancestors would be as disappointing. Looking back, I kind of have to laugh at my first attempts. I began in earnest in about 1980. I had always loved looking at my family's pictures, and I had a great uncle who was a Mormon and he had, some time before 1980, written to my mother for more information about her spouse and siblings. That gave me the first image of what a family tree chart would look like.
Jump ahead to 1994. My nephew Eric was getting married and his future mother-in-law had been doing her own genealogy for many, many years. When Carol H. asked my mom for more information on our family tree, my mother kindly pointed her my way, saying I knew a lot about it. That was an overstatement, but at the time, I knew more than the rest of the family.
My luck would hold when computers became a household item and you could buy genealogical software to store your family files. I was in heaven! I have always used Family Tree Maker, although I am sure that there are many equally as good programs for genealogy. It is now 2006 and I have a good sized family file for both my Yates and Wilkerson lines, and many of their allied families.
Random advice for beginners
? People always ask, "Where do I start"? Even if you have names for your other family members, begin with yourself first.
? If you are seriously going to research your family using a computer, get a genealogy program that you find easy to work with. It needn't cost you an "arm and a leg". Look for the basic program. I would not recommend a bundle of disks (for instance, if they contain the World Family Tree disks) like FTM sells. Those family trees have been contributed by other genealogists (including myself) and the information might not be accurate. That leads me to the next bit of advice....
? Document your sources! If you are going to be handing your family files and pictures down to your descendants, please do them an enormous favor and prove each bit of data you cite. Let me tell a funny story in regard to that request.
Three of my older cousins who lived in Missouri compiled a small 'book' about my grandmother's family tree. One of the surnames listed was Oglethorpe and it was said they had lived in Clay, Overton and Jackson counties in Tennessee. When I took up the reigns to research this line in TN, I posted my surnames on Rootsweb www.rootsweb.com for those counties. A very nice man emailed me and told me his best friend was researching in those counties too and that he had databases of many of the families. He gave me his friend's email address and I contacted this other researcher. To make a long story short, the surname turned out to be 'Osgatharp' for my ancestors that had lived in that part of the Tennessee. I was told, and I also researched this on my own, that there were no Olgethorpes living in those counties. Period. So, I reported back to my one cousin Allene this new bit of information. I asked her where they had come up with the name Oglethorpe. She told me, "That is what my mother called them"! We had a little discussion about that, and I finally convinced her that the name was instead Osgatharp. That isn't where it ends though, so I will just insert here that the name is/was also Osgathorpe, and as it turns out, our ancestor Richard Osgathorpe was a Patriot in the Revolutionary War!
I can't really fault my cousin completely for not having the correct name. Most people from her era and age group only had word of mouth and bible records to rely on for documentation.
Label those pictures while the older generation can help you!
? My dad may have failed in his earlier life, but as the oldest child he could identify many of his ancestors just by looking at their pictures. He labeled each one that he could and that was so helpful. Also, you would be surprised at how many older family pictures will surface when you begin making contact with cousins through genealogy. I have a picture of my Great-great Grandfather that I thought I would never see. In my research I have found that since my branch of the family migrated more often, the older pictures of ancestors were still with families in locations where they had the family farm or stayed the longest.
Don't bite the hand that feeds you!
? Now, here is some advice that I have for all the eager beavers who think they are in some 'race' to get the most, first, or best information in the shortest amount of time. DO NOT contact relatives who have already done much of their own genealogical research and demand that they give you all they have on your family. That is not the way to go about it. Many people are willing to share what they have (I am one of them), but some are not, and they feel that "they have spent 30, 40, or 50 years doing this research and you just want it handed over to you"? I recommend that you tell them that you would be happy to share what you have, and that you would appreciate anything they would like to share with you. Believe me, it works much better that way.
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