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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Two -- Learn about your family

One of the challenges of the online family trees is the propensity of people to simply copy what others, who share the same ancestors, have already done. Not that this is something new or confined to online pedigrees, but the magnitude of the problem has increased because it is so much easier to copy today and copying is facilitated by "hints" containing links to others who share an "ancestor" or "cousin." The problem arises when the copying is done indescriminately and without any real understanding of the identity of the copied people or even if the information is correct and the people are relatives.

The Second Step in starting to do your family history is to pace yourself and learn about the people you are adding to your own family tree. In the case of a unified family tree, such as the Family Tree, many users automatically inherit a "family." In this case, the experience is not so much identifying what you know about your family but it is more like moving into a new town or city and trying to get to anybody. The fact that someone is listed as your relative is not really enough to have a connection with that particular person.

In my case, I literally have no idea how many "relatives" I have in the Family Tree. I do know that my family tree in the website has now been connected to well over 100,000 potential relatives through the Smart Match program and I am being constantly reminded of new Smart Matches regularly sometimes hundreds at a time. But those who are just starting their genealogical journey need to become grounded in knowledge of their relationship to this potentially large aggregate of relatives.

This need was highlighted for me last evening when I was helping a patron in the Brigham Young University Family History Library. It was apparent that this person was just beginning his acquantanship with his ancestors. As we added individuals to his portion of the Family Tree, he carried on a conversation with his wife about who some of these people might have been and expressed surprise at the families that were added. Entering this world of relatives is a journey of discovery. For those with extensive pedigrees in online programs, the whole concept of discovering all these people may seem overwhelming, but for others the discovery is made one person at a time after extensive and difficult work.

I have mentioned some of the details of my own period of discovery, which is still continuing, previously. But I think it is important to understand some of the experiences I now realize we all have in common. I grew up knowing that I had a very large, extended family, but with very limited actual contact with relatives. Two of my grandparents, my father's parents, had died before I was born and because of that fact, I surmise, that our contact with the Tanner relatives was very limited. I did know one Great-grandmother and her family was relatively familiar to me. I also knew my maternal grandparents and some of the members of my mother's family and their children. But I recall only attending one extended family reunion for the Overson family and I cannot remember any other family gatherings except for my parents, siblings and their children.

This was the stage I entered when I began my genealogical research. My first efforts were limited to my own five or six generations of ancestors. I spent some of my vacations in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City gathering information in the form of family group records that I slowly built into a pedigree. Where I thought necessary, I did researh into original records to verify the information in the pedigrees and family group records. In a real sense, what I was doing over a period of years, is almost instantly accomplished by anyone going online and connecting to someone's family tree. In my case, had I been beginning this process today, I would find all of the years' accumulation of paper immediately available to me on the Family Tree.

This readily available information would seem to be a tremendous benefit. But the downside is that I have little motivation to look at the information that is already present. It has only become important to me as I have gone systematically through the Family Tree and added in sources for more and more of my relatives. I feel this one-by-one interaction is essential to understanding both the relationships and the history of my family.

So, Step Two in this process of beginning your family history is to start with yourself and your own parents and immediate family and begin learning who you are and who all of these potential realatives are. If you find yourself tempted to copy an entire pedigree from a relative, make sure you know that you are actually related to each of the individuals you see in the potential family tree. Translated into genealogy, this means making sure each person and each relationship is supported by a credible source. It is sometimes helpful to use other family trees as a reference for making an investigation or for doing research, but be careful to check all the sources attached. If there are no sources, I would suggest that adding someone from another family tree who lacks sources to your family tree is very inadvisable.

One reason why I am an advocate for the Family Tree is that I can see the accumulated work of possibly hundreds of my relatives and right or wrong, at least I have a chance to determine how much work has actually been done. I also get the benefit of all of the Memories they put into the program to get to know my relatives and ancestors.

Here are the posts in this series.

1 comment:

  1. I think it hugely important to do as you advocate and work out who these people are. Case in point was the birth certificate of my Dad's mother. I didn't get it for her details but for the maiden name of her own mother. Because this was a paper certificate, Dad and I took the time to read it together. The unknown name was Salter and he realised that this was the name of 2 people who often came to see his mother. He'd always assumed that they were friends - turned out that they were cousins and he'd never known.

    But we had to take the time to do that - my worry with all this online stuff is that it could be all too easy for me to just add the name in and never have talked to Dad about it.