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

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jumping ahead of the genealogical survey step

I meet people almost every day who are trying to do research on their family, but know little or nothing about the subject, that is, their family. I decided to put together a list of three basic questions you should ask yourself (or others) to find out if you are going to be successful in finding your family members. I find a huge spectrum of knowledge about families, from those who do not know their own parents (and were not adopted) to those who claim lineages back to Adam??

Here go the three questions:

1. Who are your parents? Where and when were they born? When and where were they married?

I realize this is a compound question, but it is aimed at the most basic family history information. Try these questions on your own children and random friends, you may be surprised at the answers. I also realize that there are a huge variety of family circumstances, single parents, divorced parents, adoptions, foster parents and many more variations. Each of these give its own difficulties, but how can you go back in time if you don't know your parents.

2. Can you name all four (or more in the case of divorce or death and remarriage) of your grandparents? I mean their complete names with the maiden names of the grandmothers. Of course, you would go on with the same information about your grandparents, birth, marriage and perhaps death. What's more important, can you do this without looking at a cheat sheet aka family group record or pedigree chart?

Another compound question, but how do you do family history if you don't know basic information about your grandparents. I am not being sarcastic, I really do talk to people almost every day who expect to do their family history without knowing anything about their own grandparents.

OK here goes question No. 3:

3. Remember those first two questions? How about the same questions about your great-grandparents?

I hope you see the point. knowledge about your family is incremental. You can't jump generations and have any possibility of coming to correct or reliable conclusions. It might happen that someone else has already done the work to record your immediate ancestors. If so, and you believe them, your first level work is started. But you really need to get to know the people, not just names. Meanwhile, I still have one friend who knows his father's name and nothing else and isn't particularly interested in finding out. I predict he will not go far in the genealogical community.


  1. James,

    Thank you for expressing this “common” trait that seems to appear daily in the present
    generation of family name gatherers. I have been referred to as a dinosaur in many ways when it
    comes to the computer, web, and research yet I also believe the early training [forty years ago]
    when paper and pencil was the basic form of recording is still needed. And the suggestions,
    which perhaps are not heard or stated as often, that we begin with what we find at home and talk
    with each generation backward that we still can remain the cornerstone of our research. Perhaps
    folks today do not even know what a cornerstone is so it is not a surprise their family research
    would not be set on a firm foundation. Keep sharing the view that not all we learned in the past
    was only good in the past, but even the “experts” with the mouse need to know how to spell
    mom and dad, not just click their way to a family tree.


  2. Terrific advice, James!! Thanks for posting.