Huffpost UK Lifestyle uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Scott Phillips Headshot

'Real World' Tips for Genealogists and Family Historians

Posted: Updated:

We all love to get tips on how to be better, more effective, efficient, etc. This is sure true for me when I am doing my genealogy and family history work. Unfortunately, I have found that often times the 'tips' are so involved, complex, and time consuming that if I followed them I would never have time to do any real work tracing my family, which is what I love the most!

2013-03-18-Fullbriefcase.jpg

As a result I have been posting on my website, Onward To Our Past®, what I call Tips for the Real World Genealogist. These are fast, easy, and simple tips for how to be more efficient, more effective, and how to have a bit more fun in your genealogy and family history efforts. The following are the first ten tips for you to contemplate and hopefully utilize in your work:

 Go electronic right away with your tree. Give a look around at all the software programs you can find for your family tree, pick one, and start building your tree electronically right from the beginning. You do NOT need to make it public although many will pressure you to believe this is the 'proper' thing to do. Taking your tree pubic with all the loss of rights that this entails is a highly personal decision and one that requires some serious thought. Personally I DO NOT have my tree public. I prefer to keep it private for family members only, but do have it hosted on MyHeritage.com and we use the very robust social network features for our family worldwide.

 Use an email address for your genealogy that you will NEVER, EVER discontinue. Please believe me that I have posted queries to chat groups, message boards, created new boards, etc. and then not had a response for one, two, even four years later! But I always have kept that email so I will never get missed. There is little more frustrating than to find a promising lead only to have your email enquiry bounce back to you. Grr!

 Document your findings from the very beginning. When you first begin don't be put off by trying to follow "Chicago Rules", etc. but just be sure to write down the source on your tree. Then attach the document, photo, etc. to your tree right away. Believe me, you will be going back to see where you found many tidbits of data on your tree over time.

 Collaborate right from the very beginning. Our work is made far better through collaboration. We are a collegial bunch and far more gets accomplished with help than trying it all 'solo'. Keep 'collaboration' as a mantra at all times.

 Be empathetic and patient. Remember that not everyone else is a crazy about family history as we are. So give them time to respond to your inquiries. Remember, too, that we never know what someone else might be struggling with when we reach out to to them, so be patient.

2013-03-18-Clockticking.jpg

 BE BOLD! Reach out. Communicate. Trust your gut feelings. If you think a novel approach might be valuable, try it! Pick up the phone and reach out. Write that letter. As a grizzled old fundraiser, I can tell you the worst that can happen is you get hung up on, your letter goes unanswered, etc. Better to try than to always wonder.

 Talk to every family member you can find and do it ASAP. I know I said to be empathetic and patient, but time's a wasting, so get to every relation you can to get every titbit of information you can! Talk to them all and don't delay. Personal, direct information is always the best and since we are never promised a tomorrow, we need to act now!

 CALL AHEAD. When you make a plan to visit a churchyard, cemetery, parish church, archive, museum, etc. always, always, always call ahead! First, there is nothing more frustrating than planning a visit only to get there and have the place locked up. Also, you can gain valuable insight with a planning phone call. Maps, locations, hours, appointments, etc. can be had with a simple phone call and your visit all the more valuable.

 Always take your camera everywhere. No matter if it is a real camera or a built-in on your phone. Don't ever leave home without it. You never, ever know what or whom you might run into. Remember I said ALWAYS!

 Finally this ... While I have used the word genealogy generously here, when you are talking to family or new folks you are trying to draw in, especially youngsters, do NOT use 'genealogy'. Use 'family history' instead. I have found the word genealogy to often be too harsh, cold sounding, schoolwork sounding, etc.

2013-03-18-Torchpassthetorch.jpg

I have many more Tips for the Real World Genealogist, so watch for them here soon! I hope you enjoy this. Let me know what tips you use, like, and dislike!