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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Four -- Start the learning process

It may come as a shock or at least a surprise to some of you who begin the process of investigating your ancestry, but the entire process is neither simple nor easy. In fact, you will soon discover that it genealogy is an immensely complicated and challenging pursuit. You will very quickly exhaust whatever individual knowledge you have about your family even if you are from a culture with extensive oral family history. This is expecially true as you move from Step Three to Step Four in the process.

In my last post, I gave an example of the need to reflect the name of a place as it was at the time any event occurred. Unfortunately, as you begin you seldom realize that the places you have discovered from your immediate family sources have not been recorded in this fashion. For example, I referred to my own Grandfather who was born in St. Joseph, Apache, Arizona Territory, United States in 1895. Almost uniformly, all of the presently available family records reflect his birth place as Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona and indeed, that is where you would go to see the place where he was born. But using that place name obscures where and how the records of his birth might be stored today.

At this point, unless you understand this principle, you will have to take my word for it. But it does point out the need for anyone beginning the process of investigating their family to start the learning process. For some time now, I have been loosely associated with some talented people who understand the need to begin the genealogical instruction process at a very basic level while at the same time allowing people to advance at their own pace into the more challenging and complex topics of genealogical research. They have developed an educational tool patterned along structured and sequenced learning that will guide individuals through this process. The free, online website is called The Family History Guide.

I suppose I could have suggested using The Family History Guide as Step One, but I think it is important to begin to work on your own family history for a while so you begin the understand the need to learn something about what you are doing. Unfortunately, there are those out there who espouse the position that genealogy is easy and fun. I tend to disagree. It is challenging and engrossing, but the term "fun" is reserved, in my vocabulary, for trivial and entertaining activities. I spent 39 years as an attorney and I learned a tremendous amount of information about the law and court procedures, but at no time would I have characterized the activity as fun.

Genealogical educational opportunities are abundant and as near as a connection to the internet. For example, the Brigham Young University Family History Library has recently uploaded its 200th video on various genealogy related subjects. For many years now, I have been associated with and we present workshops and publish books and other materials for educating both beginning and more advanced genealogists. This next year in February, there will be a huge national genealogy conference called RootsTech 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. I could go on and on with educational activities.

Despite the availability of education opportunities, at some point, each person who decides to research their family history has to confront the highly personal issue of motivation. In my experience, once I got started, I had a number of incidents concerning my research abilities that indicated that I needed a lot more information about the process of finding my ancestors. For me, this was motivation enough to begin to read and ultimately attend classes and conferences. I have mentioned before that I spent about five years taking university-level classes from Brigham Young University Independent Study. This was a turning point in my learning about genealogy because of the intense nature and work required for the classes.

Even if you approach genealogical research with the attitude that it is a pastime or hobby and fail to realize the complexity of historical inquiry, you can certainly succeed in gather information from your immediate family. You may also fall into the trap of copying extensive names from similar online family trees, but at this level, you never have the assurance that what you are finding is accurate and you may find yourself in the trap of believing and perpetrating unsupported and incorrect traditions rather than becoming engrossed in the truely wonderful real stories of your ancestors.

Once you realize that you need to become educated about genealogy, you are ready for the next step.

Here are the posts in this series.


  1. Is there a link to Step 3? I have all the links for Intro, Steps 1,2,4,5,6,7 but NO 3.