Getting Started … an introduction…

6th January 2016

Here we are at the beginning of another new year and your resolution has been to start tracing your family tree.  That’s Great! The trouble is, you say … “I Don’t know where to start.”

Well, this is where I hope to offer some help … Welcome to my Blog!

My name is Sue Myers and I have actively been carrying out genealogical research and preparing family histories for myself and other’s  for 22 years. It is a journey I have found exciting, informative, time consuming, intensive, and yes, addictive; but, ultimately,  very satisfying.

Not only have I learned a ton about the various “legs” of my family tree and those of others but I have also learned so much of the times in which these people lived and been given clues as to why certain attitudes and actions have prevailed throughout the generations.  For me that is perhaps one of the greatest gifts this work offers – that of  understanding the whys and wherefores.

Genealogy or Family History ?

Is there a difference between the two?   The answer is yes.

Genealogy is a basic compilation of names and dates, usually with a collection of six facts for everyone listed such as dates and places of birth, marriage and death.  This information is sufficient to produce one with a Pedigree and a Family Tree but little else.  It is a bit like soup without seasoning, a tree with bare branches.

Family History on the other hand is like having added in the spice – the soup becomes more flavourful and interesting.  With the leaves, blossoms and even the bad fruit which exists the genealogical tree becomes more interesting and compelling.  A picture emerges of how our ancestors looked, the struggles they encountered, the professions or trades they held, where they lived, their religious views and why they moved from place to place. With time and patience one can gain valuable insight into the lives and characters of those who came before us, and it can truly be an exciting ride!!

So, “Where Does One Start?”

Simply put;  Start with what you know… yourself, your parents, their parents; then work backwards through the generations.

Make a decision about what you hope to accomplish.  Write it down. Determine if you wish to pursue one line at a time  or collect as many relatives as possible.

Collect oral and written evidence.  Talk to as many relatives as possible. Record their stories. Accumulate pictures. Collect as many family documents (or photocopies thereof) as possible, birth, marriage and death certificates, old bibles, immigration records, Wills, Probate Records and and and …the possibilities are limitless.

Organize and Document.  Make copies of all your documentation and keep them safe in hard or digital form (or both)

There are three main methods in which this is done… by Acquisition, Ancestral Number or Ancestral Name. Use one method only rather than a combination of the three or you may find life soon becoming chaotic.

The Acquisition Method itemizes each document indicating the number of the item, the description and where it has been noted.

Using the Ancestral Number method, one utilises the standard Pedigree Chart numbers and creates file folders or binders for each person and document.  For example;  Your grandfather listed on the Pedigree Chart is #4 so your file for that person also becomes #4. Documents such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, death certificate, trade card etc will then be listed as 4a, 4b, 4c etc.

This system works well when researching your direct ancestors only.  For additional relatives, one would then also have to add a system of numbers.  I would not recommend this method for a beginner.

The system I use to organise is by Ancestral Name.  This method separates each couple into their own file folder or binder section, alphabetically according to the husband’s surname, followed by first name. ALL documents relating to this couple and their unmarried  children are kept in this file.  Each child would later have their own file with documents enclosed therein upon your picking up research on them.

A General file differentiated by colour for each family name is also a good idea. One can collect miscellaneous correspondence here and other general information not yet assigned.

The beauty of the Ancestral Name method is the ability to easily view the material for any one person as well as allowing with ease the ability to expand.

Photograhs/ Artwork and other Illustrations:  The main objective with these is to be sure to have them identified with names, places and dates and labelled.  Writing the information with a soft pencil on the back along the edge of a photo is a good practise.  Do NOT use magnetic photo album as the plastic will eventually destroy the photograph.   Acid free page protectors are useful in order to keep the photos with your written evidence.  Alternatively, storing these pieces in a dark box will maintain their integrity.

Archaelogical Items  are those belongings which have been passed down in the family.  They may include war medals, tools, writing books etc.  Again, identify the items for ownership and keep the information in your ancestral file, indicating where the items are stored.

Hard Copy / Software Programmes

I like to maintain my records in both hard copy as well as in digital form. When I started my research, the digital resources did not exist the way they now do.

Genealogical forms such as Family Group Records, Pedigree Charts, Descent Charts are a good way to keep track of your newly found family members. Many of these can now be obtained on line. These should be included in the files of each member you are researching.

Today there are many excellent Genealogy Software programmes available which we will look at more later.   I currently use Family Tree Maker and have found it both efficient and user friendly.

It is almost a given that your attention will become diverted into other areas of research such as local history, or information on the history of a trade of one our ancestors… As this occurs, I’d suggest you set up a separate file for that subject rather than including it in the files of your family members.

Organisation is something I cannot stress too greatly as once you begin, a lack of it will soon find your information rapidly become unwieldy. Follow the aforementioned suggestions and you will be off to a good start.

Lastly, A Word of  Caution;

With the advent of the internet, many genealogical sites such as Ancestry, Genes Reunited, Find My Past, Roots Chat, and many more have arisen.  On many of these sites you may come across others who appear to be researching your very tree.

It is a common mistake often made by novices to simply accept another’s research as being relevant to their own.  This can result in much wasted time and effort.  While the information may relate to your family it is VERY important that you do your own due diligence before blindly accepting another’s work.  You can save yourself much frustration by doing so.

As we go through the weeks, I will be providing sources of information, tips and techniques as well as information on various patterns of behaviour and social norms which existed and may have impacted your ancestors. Hopefully  the information contained herein will give you an idea of where and how to start on this journey.

Additionally, my facebook page, “Getting to the Root of it All”, may also provide you with some interesting facts as you move forward.  I hope so… enjoy the process and happy digging…


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