Hopefully by now you have been spending some quality time with your family. So you may be wondering what do I do now? Or, if you haven’t kept up with your family, you may be wondering how to rekindle that relationship. This can be very daunting if you have severed ties with family—through your simple act of living life or perhaps your family was just never close and you don’t know them. Perhaps you had a death in the family and just didn’t keep up with those left behind because your grief was so great you didn’t know what to do. Believe me, we all have family that we are not close because of old family feuds between our parents/grandparents and their siblings. So, I think I can hear you saying what do I do now?
Since you started in a good place and have been compiling a list of all known facts starting with your immediate family. You have been as comprehensive as possible and recorded full names, dates and places of birth, marriages, and divorces—you have also gotten copies of these state records when possible. It is a good idea to write a short story or biography on each individual and grab a photo for your records if at all possible. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct—just get the facts as accurately as possible and document the source. For now, just write down where you got the info—I will guide you later how to properly write a citation for your research.
Congratulations! You have now planted the seeds to your family tree. Now we need to don your Sherlock Holmes hat and begin solving the mystery of who you think you are and grow your family tree.
Now is the time to reconnect with those “distant” relatives. A random phone call or letter can cause a couple of responses. One can be suspicions—do they need to borrow money? Do they want to be in my will? Is there bad news? Put them at ease right away by telling them that you have an interest in tracing the family tree—nothing else. If after several visits, they haven’t offered to give you pictures, ask if you can take a picture of the picture with your digital camera or cell phone. I am a firm believer that any picture is better than no picture. Most relatives will be thrilled that you are undertaking such a task however be prepared for the few that oppose the idea fearing what skeletons will be let out of the closet. They will also give you family stories as facts. Take the stories with a grain of salt until you have proof of the family claim. There is always some type of truth to the family stories. While some family stories seem really out there, they may actually be true.
I have found that the most valuable information was gained over a visit with the oldest relatives. It is a fact of life that we are not on this planet forever. Now that I only have one living grandmother, her memory, assistance, and detailed recollection of my ancestors are priceless!
Don’t be scared to have a chat with old Uncle Hiram—the black sheep of the family—because he will be the one to tell you the most interesting stories because the white sheep isn’t as white as you might think!
You should now be well on your way. You should by now been bit by the genealogy bug—while it isn’t life threatening –your life will change dramatically and so will that of your immediate family.
You must begin to keep your information organized. You have undertaken a huge responsibly in preserving historical records for generations to come. You might find a genealogy program is a valuable tool to record all these important details in the very near future. They are readily available for purchase in most department stores or you may even find a free version on the web that you like.
With each genealogy puzzle piece that you uncover, you will soon find you are gathering hundreds of stories, documents, records, and pictures. Be sure to make a note of whom provided each particular piece to your puzzle, you won’t remember whether you got them from Aunt Mary or cousin Cheryl and you may need to talk to them again.
You are now the family detective.
Your family tree is now firmly rooted and the trunk is sprouting and a visit to the local genealogy society meeting or Family History department at your local library will help add branches. Free expert guidance from their historians will provide you with the pruning tools to grow and nurture a healthy family tree. They can instruct you on how to do online searching, cemetery and newspaper archives, and many more historical records that will prove invaluable and where to locate them. Don’t get discouraged if you run into what I call “genealogy snobs”. I will address how to handle those people in the next couple of weeks.
At times you will get discouraged followed by exhilaration of locating a missing puzzle piece. You will also find researching your family history very addictive and an extremely rewarding way of spending time with your family.
Keep an eye out for family reunions this summer and start making plans to attend. Many families are already planning them and have dates scheduled. Reunions are a very quick and low cost way to gather material for your family tree research. I will be addressing how to do research at a reunion closer to spring.
I bid you adieu for I now have to work on my family history mystery to research!
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