RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, November 28, 2011

How do you start your genealogy?

Where you start depends on where you are. Hmm, that's profound statement (sarcasm). In a recent post, I described my experience with three beginning genealogists. I took all three to New FamilySearch and started them downloading their pedigree into a popular genealogical data base program. All three of these people already had:
  1. Computer skills
  2. A basic knowledge of their family structure
  3. A desire to use the computer to do their genealogy
  4. Access to New.FamilySearch.org
Obviously, some people will not have some or any of the above skills or opportunities. Commentators to the post were right, if the people who are starting out have the following:
  1. No computer skills
  2. No knowledge of their family at all, including the names of parents and/or grandparents
  3. Little desire or no desire to touch a computer
  4. No access to New.FamilySearch.org
Then there is a whole different challenge. My experience with the second group is spotty and frustrating. Usually they have some specific motive for finding their family. In some cases they are trying to find the identity of a parent, such as a missing father. In some cases in Arizona, they are trying to establish an Indian ancestor so they can enlist in a tribe or reservation. Often, they are interested to see if they are related to a famous person, although some will not admit this desire. Others have a real interest in their family but aren't ready to put forth more than a modest effort. These people sometimes come into the Family History Center and ask to have their genealogy printed off for them and it takes quite a while to convince them that we can't just push a button and see their "genealogy."

Most of these people are not at all interested in doing research. The minute I turn on a computer and start to show them how to find their family members, they lose interest and walk out. They are under the impression that we will do all the work for them for free. Occasionally, I will help someone who really wants to learn and is motivated to do some work. In this case, I do start with a paper pedigree chart, just to give the person and me some idea of the what they should do. Some of these people stay and work hard at finding their ancestors and soon start taking classes and learning some computer skills. Motivation is a great thing.

The advantage of having a program like New FamilySearch, for those who have access, is that the program will already have any existing pedigree information the person's family may have submitted, for free access. That means they can go home, log in and look at what is there. To do this however, the person has to be pretty well into the first group. Among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Mormons) even though New FamilySearch has now been around for years, there are huge numbers of members who have not even logged on to the program one time and an even larger number who have logged on once or twice but never looked at the information. New FamilySearch is a good program for beginners, if they begin. It only gets frustrating after you have been working with it for a while.

Yes, you do start with what you know. Yes, you do gather information from your own records and immediate family members. Yes, you do start with a simple pedigree chart and fill in the blanks and no, this type of newcomer will not have the same experience as my three ladies had. But my guess is that everyone will eventually get to the point where they realize that genealogy is complicated, difficult, time-consuming, interesting, absorbing, addictive and worth the effort, if they will only keep at it for a while.

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