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Genealogy Research Tips
Genealogical research can be exhilarating and grueling at the same time: one moment you unearth arcane information that sheds light on your heritage and completes another piece of your family tree - and another you’re stuck, dazed and confused, not sure what to do next. In this article we’ll explore what I believe are the three most pivotal ingredients of a successful genealogical search. I won’t get into specific techniques, step-by-step instructions or rules you should follow; I’ll leave that up to your consideration. Instead, what I’ll focus on basic guidelines and traits that you would be wise to cultivate if you wish to reach those energizing discoveries, attain those coveted records and complete that family history chart (which is actually never really, truly complete.) So, without any further ado, here are the guidelines:
- Persevere: Ah, yes. It’s easier said than done. But the truth of the matter is, you won’t build your family tree in two days and you won’t uncover your heritage within a few hours. We all know this. But what sets apart the successful genealogist from the unsuccessful one? Perspective. A successful genealogist sees a brick wall as a part of the process, as something inevitable. He or she works to find ways around it, above it, below it, through it. The not-so-successful genealogist, however, despairs at every sign of a dead end. If you feel frustrated, take a few moments, hours – days if you need to. But when you’re ready, come back. By the way, perseverance doesn’t mean that you stay on the same course of action and never, ever move on. It means that you exhaust once resource thoroughly, until you are certain there is nothing more to be found, and then you move on. And even after you move on, you come back to see if there is something you didn’t notice, if a light bulb suddenly flicks in your mind.
- Explore: Creativity is a pivotal ingredient in a genealogical search. Unfortunately, while there is tons of advice to be found, millions of experts and guide and billions of records, nobody can tell you exactly how to find your aunts and uncles and how to build your family tree. This is because every family is different, and every family history is documented differently, and so every genealogical expedition is different. There are common factors, true - but nobody can tell you what you need to do. You must therefore find you own way, and the best way to do this is to explore possibilities. Be creative! Make a list of 10 possible places to look for information. Then when you’re CERTAIN that you can’t find anymore, add another 20! The good ideas come only when you really push yourself. Look for ideas and clues in your “real life,” in everyday things. When you fill in a form, ask yourself “did my ancestors fill in this form too?” If they did, perhaps there is some information to be found…
- Enjoy: Just like exercise and diet, you will not do what you do not enjoy. Genealogy requires time and, as we have already stated, perseverance. The fact is, though, that sometimes we forget why we started this in the first place. We forget that the purpose of genealogy is to enrich our lives, not make it miserable. It is to enlarge our self-concept, not to shrink it. So if you feel you’re taking yourself too seriously and the fun is no longer there, stop what you’re doing. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself why you’re doing this, why you started this in the first place. Rekindle the passion you have for your history. This will also help you stumble upon those little synchronicities and clues that bring you just the right information at the right time. And isn’t that what genealogy is all about?
I hope you found these guidelines helpful. And remember – they aren’t rules or steps to be followed. Sometimes you won’t feel creative or perseverant – but that’s okay. There is always tomorrow, and who knows? Maybe that breakthrough is just around the corner.