Older and Wiser: What I’d Say to My Younger Genealogical Self

So you’ve been researching your family history for a while now, and have learnt things over the years, and I have no doubt that you’re a different researcher now than you were back then.

So what would you say to your younger genealogical self? Here’s my response …

Dear younger me,

So I know that you grew up with family history, but you FINALLY took up doing your own. That’s AWESOME!! I know you had a good start with what dad did, but nothing beats doing your own searching, and in doing so you’ll come across people you never knew, find out amazing stories of survival, put names and faces to photographs and heirlooms and more. In essence you’ll learn about the people who helped make YOU!

So what advice can I give you?

Read. I know you already read, but read articles in genealogy magazines, read reviews of genealogical products and websites, read blogs on people’s research. I do all of this now, and learn a lot from them. The learning never ends.

Cite your sources. I know, you’ve heard it before. As much as you believe you’ll remember where you got that tidbit of information from, trust me 5 years down the track when you’re relooking at that branch, you won’t. So CITE. YOUR. SOURCES. While it doesn’t have to be in the “official citation format” if you’re not familiar with that yet, but at least note where it came from: what person, what book, what newspaper (including the date and page number), what website etc. Afterall a tree without sources is as bad as a photograph album without names … well almost.

Another thing … don’t be afraid to ask questions? Query your relatives, usually one question and one person at a time, and note the answers. Despite our family knowing they SHOULD write their own history, they don’t (or at least haven’t yet, despite my requests), so this is one way to get some info out of them! It doesn’t have to be a full oral history interview, but at least it’s something.

While I’m on the topic of questions, don’t be afraid to ask other genies if you don’t know what something means or how to do something. That’s how you learn. The genealogy community is a wonderful place, and most of them are incredibly helpful.

Filing. It’s the bain of your life. I know. But you need to get into the routine of doing this early on, otherwise I am left with the piles that you left me, which are too high and are at the “where-on-earth-do-I-even-begin-with-this” phase! So please, please, please start filing.

Scanning & Online Filing. I know you came up with a numbering method for digital media – great – but (yes there is a BUT), if you’re going to change the system partway through, at least renumber them all. Don’t leave them all half one way and half the other!! It’s confusing even for me now.

Genealogy Conferences. You have been to many over the years, and while speakers often say they have notes you can download, don’t let anyone stop you from taking your own handwritten notes. I known that’s how you learn better (writing it down), so just do it!

Negative Evidence. Don’t let ‘not’ finding a record be a disappointment. That in fact is quite useful as it’s negative evidence. You’ve eliminated that source or record. So while it’s not as exciting as finding the person or entry you’re looking for, it’s still totally useful.

Persevere. You will get frustrated. There’s no doubt about that. But if needed take a break from research, or move on to a different family or branch. Then you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes. Trust me, it works!

So that’s just a few tips for you. But really you’ve pretty much got it under control.

And thankyou for being the researcher you are, which has helped me become the researcher I am today.

From current day (older and wiser) me.

So fellow researchers, what would you advise your younger genealogical self?

9 Responses to “Older and Wiser: What I’d Say to My Younger Genealogical Self”

  1. Jenny MacKay says:

    To my younger self, everything you have said. Those dang sources. Just write a source, don’t get caught up in the, ‘it must be done this way’. Where you found it, name the source, page number/film number, title, location. Just so you can find it again. The memory will fade especially in regard to photos or other memorabilia from relatives, write down who gave it to you. Down the track it could be important to know who has the originals now. Great blog. Thank you.

    • Alona says:

      Thankyou for your comments and kind words Jenny. You are totally correct in that as long as the source is relocatable from what you write down, that’s ok.

  2. Pauleen says:

    Great post and advice Alona! We all learn as we go along…including about our mistakes.

  3. Lilian Magill says:

    Thank you. I’ll ditto everything you said and add that even if you find new family, you don’t have to like them, stay in touch or share information, if they make your life hell.

  4. Carmel says:

    Excellent advice! I’d add learn about photo resolution and editing before embarking on scanning those years of old photos.

  5. Isabel Flynn says:

    Lovely story to your earlier self. My letter would be very similar – and I would make sure I spent time with all these unnamed photos – till I had them all named by older family still alive.

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