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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Where Do I Start? -- Resources for Genealogical Beginners

There are beginners and then there are really beginners. Doing family history or genealogical research presupposes a number of skills. Where you start depends entirely on the skills you have managed to acquire to that point in your life. The advertisements and promotional material that characterize genealogy or whatever you want to call it, as "easy" are not telling the entire story. There is only so much that is relatively easy about searching for family members. If you start with a blank pedigree chart and fill in the names of your parents (assuming you are not like some of my friends who don't know one or the other of their own parents) then I suppose you could call the activity easy. That is until you start to try to get into some pesky details such as birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and other interesting and helpful facts about your ancestors.

I have never understood why telling someone that finding out about your ancestors is an easy project was somehow a way to get people involved in research. What happens when they realize that all the hoopla about "easy" doesn't fit the bill. I had that happen today when one of my friends asked about a marriage date for one of her family members. She had no idea that you could look so many different places for the same information.

OK, so where do you start? I suggest the very first thing to do is to update your computer and typing skills. As an example, our public libraries give basic classes for free from time to time. There are also many online free computer classes such as GCF The number of free online classes has exploded recently and many colleges and universities offer complete online adult education classes for free. If you are willing to spend some money learning, local community colleges generally have basic classes. But no matter how you look at it, you will feel a lot more comfortable working with genealogy if you have basic computer skills. Did I say anything about practice? If you want to improve you keyboarding ability, you have to spend time working at it. Anything you persist in doing becomes easier over time. Does that sound familiar? The complete quote is:

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

You will also need some online networking skills. I do not suggest that you seek these from one of your network savvy young people unless they are extraordinarily patient. You will only get frustrated from watching them zip around on the Internet. Once again, I suggest Community Colleges and Adult Education, both online and both paid and free. 

Next I would suggest some really basic genealogy classes. Now, I didn't do either of these. I learned to type in high school (one of the three or four useful things I learned) so that didn't slow me down. But I didn't know diddle about genealogy when I started. I learned the hard way -- through experience. In retrospect, I wish I had taken some classes or gone to a few conventions. It would have made my life a lot easier. 

I really do suggest going to a local FamilySearch Center to see what classes they offer. Now, some of the smaller centers may not offer many or any. But then you can go back online for free classes. If you want the best complete introduction, go to Brigham Young University's free online courses. When I finally realized I needed formal training, I took a whole series of BYU regular online paid classes over a five year period. These were some of the hardest university classes I ever took including law school, but they gave me a basic foundation in genealogy. If you are serious about genealogy, get serious about continuing education, they go hand in hand. There are a lot of other opportunities to learn from conferences, seminars and all sorts of other events. At RootsTech 2014 there is a getting started track, for example. 

In the end, there is no free lunch. There is no quick and easy way to move into genealogy. It takes time and considerable effort to master the skills necessary to become a competent researcher. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise has probably not done much genealogical research themselves. But if you have a desire to do genealogy, you will find a way to get the work done. Think about it. 

OK, one last word. There are so many classes, conferences and such online and around the country, you could do that full time. Don't get caught up taking class after class. Just start working on your genealogy and you will soon see what skills you need. It is also a good idea to make some genealogical friends that will help you when you get stuck. That is what the online community will do for you. Stay in touch with all of us online and ask questions. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. My cousin and I are going to give a start from scratch genealogy class for a local senior citizens group. They have iPads and computers so I guess they know something.

    You have given me great ideas where to start.