I Found A Twig…Now What…?!

The thought of jumping into your family history can be a bit intimidating.  With so many people and so much information to find, how in the world do you even get started?!  Well, let me help you out a bit.  I’ve come up with just a few suggestions to get you started!

  1. Start with what you know

You may only know your grandparents’ names, or you may be lucky enough to go all the way back to your 2x Great Grandparents.  Either way, you are at a great jumping off point.  The best way to get your feet wet in genealogy is to start with what you know.  My suggestion is to start by filling out a ancestral chart.  This sheet will help you to see the information you already have, and will help direct you in the direction of where to take your research.

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Ancestral Chart

I suggest starting with either your maternal or paternal side.  I find that usually a person knows more about one side than the other.  Do not ask me why this is the case!  Haha! Do not try to do both at the same time.  You will get confused on who goes with who and who was where. (That sentence alone sounds confusing!)  This isn’t just something for beginners to remember, but a good reminder for those of us who have been doing it for years!

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  1. Keep it simple

Okay, this kind of goes with what I said under number one, but let me go into a little more detail.  When I say simple what I mean is do not go in looking for every story about your ancestor.  Those will come with time.  To start, look for the basic vital records (birth, marriage, and death) and use these basics to grow your tree.  Birth certificates will usually tell you both parents’ names.  Marriage certificates will sometimes tell you who the couple’s parents are, and death certificates may tell you the spouse’s name as well as the parents’ names.

There is a lot more information you can gain from vital records, but I’ll go into more specifics in a later post.  Right now, you just want to get used to looking at the records.  One thing I failed to mention above is to pay attention to where these events occurred.  Be aware that of how people moved during the time you are researching.  If you’re in the early 1800s and a couple was married on the east coast and had a child nine months later on the west coast, you may need to do a little more digging.  That’s not to say that the scenario is impossible, but travel back then, especially across the country, was treacherous.  Could a couple, with a pregnant woman, really have made it across the county in that amount of time?

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a dumb question, especially in genealogy.  While research may be done as a solo project, most genealogy is a collaborative effort.  That means, that someone out there may have the information that you need and vice versa.  If you are on Ancestry, and have completed the DNA testing, do not be afraid of reaching out to a new “cousin” that is researching the same family members that you are.  Ask them what information they have.  It’s always a smart idea to compare notes.  Sometimes you’ll hit a gold mine of information while other times you’ll come up with nothing.  You never know until you ask!

 

  1. Manage your expectations

I would love nothing more than to tell you that you will find what you’re looking for in exactly one week, but genealogy doesn’t work that way.  The best way to avoid getting frustrated is just to take it a bit at a time.  Celebrate when you find a new ancestor.  When you hit a brick wall, take a break.  It’s okay to step away for a moment.  Got get some wine…or a cupcake…believe me, I do it!

When doing genealogy, always remember the saying that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Genealogy is addicting, frustrating, but most importantly fun!

If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me coolgirlgenealogy@gmail.com

Ancestral chart can be downloaded at https://www.archives.gov/files/research/genealogy/charts-forms/ancestral-chart.pdf

Keep an eye out for a post in the coming weeks talking more specifically about vital records!

Fact or Fact?!

We’ve all heard those crazy family stories.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  The crazy stores of an ancestor that you know can’t possibly be true.  What if I told you that story was true?  You would probably think I was crazy too, huh?

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Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t know if all your family stories are true or not, but what I do know is that somewhere in that story is some truth.  I know you’ve heard the saying, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.  Well, the same can be said for genealogy and family stories.  Somewhere along the way, that story was told.  Maybe the facts got twisted along the way, but it is still a real story about your real family.

Maybe I’ve confused you now.  Let me give you an example.  From an early age my Grandfather would tell me a story about how he pushed an Indian off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan.  Yes, this falls into the category of “crazy family story”.  For years, I brushed it off as nothing but pure fiction.  (If you know anything about the Mackinac Bridge, you know why).  Come to find out, there was a bit of truth in that story.  No, my Grandfather did commit a crime by pushing someone off a bridge, but he did work on the Mackinac Bridge.  He helped to install the elevators on the bridge back in the late 1950s.

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The moral of this story is to not be so quick to dismiss family folklore at just that, a bunch of untruths.  If you look close enough, you might just find a nugget of truth to bring your ancestor back to life.

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Why I Do What I Do

When I tell people that I am a genealogist, I usually get one of two reactions.  Some think that is the coolest thing ever, while others can’t seem to understand why I would be interested in other people’s genealogy.  I usually ask the doubters if they know where they came from.  More often than not, they tell me they have no idea about their ancestors.  That’s when my eyes light up and I go into full genealogist mode.

I don’t “sell” the idea of genealogy to the doubters in order to make a dollar.  I do it so I can see their idea of family history change when I begin to tell them the stories of their ancestors.  I do it so that they can find a little bit of themselves in their 2x Great Grandparents.  I do it in order to help them find closure on what was an unbelievable and unconfirmed family story.  I could come up with a thousand reasons of why I “do” genealogy and not one of them is more important than the other.

I recently came across an article by a genealogist that criticized the new season of Who Do You Think You Are.  They were disappointed that this season is focusing more on the storytelling than the genealogy work.  I don’t understand why this is a bad thing.  The storytelling is what brought me to genealogy.  It wasn’t the countless hours in a library or digging through records in a courthouse.  These days, I love spending hours on end doing research, but to a non-genealogist they just want to know the story.  I feel like why not use the “new” Who Do You Think You Are to our advantage.  When you hear someone talk about the show, let them know that you (or another genealogist) can help them have the same experience.  One doesn’t have to know how the cake is baked to know that it’s sweet!

Why Should I Care?!

The most popular question I get when I say I’m a genealogist, besides “will you do my genealogy”, is “why should I care about my genealogy?”  It’s at this moment that I have to remind myself that not everyone is a big nerd like me.  Haha!  Anyways, with this post I’m going to do my best to convince you why you should care about your genealogy.

Knowing Who You Are

Okay, so your genealogy isn’t going to tell you what you’re destined to do in life, but sometimes it can help shed a light on one of you passions.  When you start looking into your ancestors’ occupations or hobbies, sometimes you find that you have something in common.  Take music for instance.  Maybe you like to play the guitar and everyone in your immediate family can’t understand why.  When you start digging into your genealogy, you find a great-grandfather who played guitar and his father played guitar and so on.  You instantly find a connection to your past and realize your passion is part of your history and your future.

Ownership in History

While in school we all had to memorize important dates and historical facts, without really understanding what the point was.  What if, when researching your ancestors, you find someone who had their hand in making history?  That might make that historical fact a bit more important to you, right?  For example, my research specialty is the Revolutionary War era.  Researching my ancestors during this time in history has not only provided me with many great stories, but it has also given me a new sense of pride during holidays such as the 4th of July.  When history becomes personal through your ancestors, you gain a new perspective on what those who lived it actually went though.

 

DNA

Now this reason I’ll go into a little more in-depth h in a later post because there is so much to talk about!  On the surface, DNA can tell you most of your genetic makeup.  It can break it down and really tell you what nationalities you are.  I know what you’re thinking, you already know that your family came from Ireland and everyone in your tree is Irish.  Think again!  There is a video that has been making the rounds about genealogy and DNA.  They talked to a lady from France and asked if she would like to take a DNA test.  She said sure, but she could already tell everyone that she was French, her parents were French, and her grandparents were French.  Imagine her surprise when her DNA test came back and she had absolutely no French DNA ancestry!  She was actually British!

 

Answering the Unanswered Questions

This one can be a bit tricky and can sometimes backfire on a reason why you should be interested in your genealogy.  We all have those stories in our family tree that are basically family folklore.  Some stories are good and some are bad, but we all have a part of us that wants to know the truth.  Genealogy research allows us to be our own family detectives.  To follow where the paper trail goes and answer the questions that have been plaguing our past.  While family trees don’t always have perfect branches, it is a combination of all the stories that have shaped not only our families, but our own lives.

 

I could keep going on and on about why you should care about your genealogy, but lucky for you, I don’t have the time!  While finding your ancestors may be no easy task, the rewards it gives you can be bountiful.  So the next time you wonder why you like something, or why you do something a certain way, the answer just might be with your ancestors.