GETTING STARTED IN GENEALOGY (Article by Michael Adam)

WHERE DO I START? I first started my genealogy project only a few years ago, wanting to put together my family tree as a Christmas present for my grandparents. It has since turned in to an obsession which has taken most of my free time to pursue.

I by no means claim to be a professional genealogist, but I do have a considerable amount of computer knowledge and experience, and have used it to my advantage in my research to help uncover a variety of information about my family tree. There are right ways and wrong ways to do things.The following article is a bit of advice that I wish someone had given me before I started.

You need to develop a plan as to what you want to research. Whether it is all of the male ancestors in your direct lineage and their families, or an Extended Family Tree showing all the collateral branches of the tree with male and female ancestors along with all wives and children.

Work backwards from the information you already know about ancestors already known and identified. Check to see if anyone else on-line is currently researching the same family lines as you. It makes it easier for you if someone already has current branches of your tree developed.

TALK TO YOUR LIVING RELATIVES!!!!
One of the very first things you should do before you take on your project, is to talk to all of your living relatives to gather as much information as possible about your family. Write down even the most trivial bits of information you can, because it may be relevant later. Don't just ask about dates and names, try to get as much personal information as you can. You cannot have too much information, and the more personal the better. Your family is the most important piece to the puzzle. If I had the chance to ask my relatives questions before they died, I could have been done a lot sooner, had I not been detoured by wrong information found on-line. Take the time to sit and visit with your relatives, ask questions, most times they are just as interested as you about their history.

Ask your relatives about Family Bibles, letters, photos, deeds, newspaper clippings, important documents and such they know about or have kept away. My grandmother had an attic filled with treasures which make up a good majority of my collection.

I even made a questionnaire out to give to my relatives to answer some generic questions I put together from "What did you heat your house with?", "Where did you attend school?" to "What presidents did you vote for?" and "What was your favorite food?". All of this information can help our descendants learn everything they can about a relative from the past.

Keep a journal if you can. This I believe is one the best things you can pass down from generation to generation. Just think how great it would be if one of your ancestors from 100 years ago kept a journal of their daily life events. It is a way for your descendants to come to know and love you.

DON'T TRUST EVERYTHING YOU READ ON-LINE
Don't trust everything you read online. A lot of genealogists and amateurs will copy invalid information over and over again leading people down the wrong path. Make sure all of your information is correctly documented with sources and references, so you can easily show your information is valid and true. Not all of the information online is incorrect, and you will have to be diligent in determining whether or not it is. Don't take anything for granted. I can't tell you how many wrong turns I have taken when using someone elses information I found online. It really does waste a lot of time if the information is not documented or validated.

BUY GENEALOGY SOFTWARE
Buy a Genealogy software that fits your needs the best. It may even be two separate software programs you use to be effective. Most programs can be had for $50-$100. Consider this a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost for copies, trips, etc. Make sure all of your print-outs and information are in the same format throughout your project. I use RootsWeb software to document and organize my information. I tried several, but this is the one that works best for me. It may not be what you are looking for. Software programs often offer a 30-day trial program to try before you buy. Use them! There is nothing worse than loading all of your information in only to find out it isn't what you were looking for after all.

DOCUMENT ALL SOURCES
Try to get in the habit of documenting all of your resources you used in determining a fact to be true and valid. References should always include the title, page number, volume number, etc. so you don't get confused if you run across conflicting information later. This will also help validate your information posted.

SUBSCRIBE TO ON-LINE DATABASES
I had to subscribe to several web sites such as Ancestry.com and NewEnglandAncestors.org in order to gather the amount of information that I did. Ancestry has a huge selection of records from around the world such as Census records, Draft Cards, Passport Information, City Directories, Immigration lists and some vital records, but it does not contain all of the information you can find. You can find databases online, sometimes even for free viewing, containing the Vital records from particular towns, land recordings, wills, probate records, etc.

TOWN HALLS & LIBRARIES
Although computers have made it easier for us to attain a mass amount of research data online, a trip to a Town Hall or library can uncover many documents and records not available to the computer savvy. There is so much information that has not been produced online, that you can only find there. Land transactions, deeds and wills can all be found if you know where to look. Most places will copy a document (for a fee) for you to save you the trip. Before visiting, have a list of names and dates you are looking for so you are prepared. Bring a lot of change if you plan to photocopy, or bring your digital camera for the pages you can't.


MAKE ROOM & TIME FOR PROJECT

Clear out the Basement or Office and set aside an area for your research documents and pictures. Make sure the area will remain dry and try to protect your information as best you can. You will need at least a filing cabinets worth of space before too long, so plan ahead. I have a room in a finished basement filled with papers, notebooks, photos, research books and unfinished works. It can overtake you pretty quickly so try to stay organized.

Plan on it overtaking your current lifestyle. Once you start, you're hooked. I became addicted the moment after I found my first piece of information. It is very exciting to uncover pieces to your family puzzle. Even now, I get excited when I find a piece of new information that I didn't have before.

GOOD OLD GOOGLE
Google believe it or not, along with Google Books, has provided a pleasant amount of information from people who have done the research before me. Not everything is to be taken verbatim, but there is a vast network of genealogists posting data all the time, some of it good and some of it bad.

BUY A SCANNER & PHOTOSHOP SOFTWARE
Buy a quality scanner and an image editing software so you can scan all of your photos on to your computer. With the image editing software (I recommend Photoshop), you can alter and restore the photo images to high quality online. You can even add text to the images so you don't forget who they are.

MISPELLED SURNAMES
When searching for ancestors online, watch for variations in the spelling of surnames as sometimes the census recorders spelled names just the way they sounded, as some immigrants did not speak good English. Several of my family surnames were found misspelled or under variations like: Donovan, Donavan, Donnovan, Kosiba, Koshiba, Kosheba, etc. There is a lot of information that is incorrectly indexed online only because of human error. People make mistakes. Some of the older writing is very hard to transcribe, and can easily be misinterpreted. Try using wildcard characters in your searches or Soundex to include all variations of spelling.

GENEALOGY FORUMS
Genealogy forums are a good place to post information you are searching for. There are many people out there, some of who are searching for the same information as you. These sites have provided me with additional information and new places to look. If you run in to a brick wall and can go no further, try the forum sites for more information. Maybe someone has what you are looking for.


BE PATIENT, DON'T GIVE UP
You need to be patient, resourceful and even a little lucky if you wish to succeed in your research. My research started out as a five generation project only to blossom in to a lifelong study. There is a lot of information out there if you know where to look. Don't give up on an ancestor if you can't find information in the traditional ways. Sometimes it takes being a little creative and cross referencing other information in order to get what you are looking for.
Also, most genealogy sites have new information being transcribed all the time, and sometimes it takes a while to post. Be patient, it's a long haul.

Document all of your brick walls you run in to. When you have reached the point where you think you can't gather any more information to find an ancestor's parentage, try posting it online. Maybe someone else has gotten past it.

Genealogy is a fun and exciting way to learn of your family ancestors who came before you. It is also a very addicting and time consuming endeavor. I can tell you personally that I enjoyed every minute of it and would gladly do it all again.

Good Luck,
Michael J. Adam