Talking to Relatives
Episode #2 of the course Researching your genealogy by Alisa Miller
Welcome back! Now that you’ve prepared yourself to begin your research on your family’s genealogy, it’s time to start the fun. The best place to begin is by talking with family members. You will be asking for specific ways they can help you. We’re going to explore how family can help you with a broad family history, as well as learn details about specific family members.
Take a few minutes to think about people you can speak with. Make a list of relatives to whom you can reach out. Don’t forget to include those you might not talk with frequently. In my own research, I spoke with an aunt I hadn’t seen in years and learned a fascinating story about a great aunt.
Getting the Word Out
If your family is like mine, you can rely on certain family members to be the news-breakers. They are always eager to share any news with the rest of the family. I recommend letting the news-breakers in your family know you are working on your genealogy. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, when people learn you’re seeking information on the family, they may come forward with what they know, without you needing to seek them out. Second, you may learn that someone else has already started documenting your family tree.
If you discover another family member has a working family tree, this is great news for you. Be aware, though, that even if someone else has started a tree, there will be information specific to your own heritage that will not be included on their family tree. For example, I learned that a relative on my mother’s side of the family had done extensive research. The information I gathered from her was invaluable for me, but it only covered a portion of my mother’s side of the family. No one had done research for my father’s side of the family, so I still had plenty of work ahead of me.
One thing talking with family can provide is an overview of your family history. Be sure to ask specific questions:
• Find out family names, particularly from maternal sides of your family tree, as it can be challenging to find women’s maiden names.
• Ask if there are any family member who were in the military.
• Ask where your family came from. Other states or countries different from where you know family currently lives can be helpful.
• Be sure to get birth, marriage, and death dates on your relatives.
• Finally, find out about any family rumors. Sometimes these stories can lead to unexpected developments.
It’s helpful to make notes of all this information as you learn it. There are resources specific to Native American tribes, military service, religious affiliation, country of origin, and more. You never know when what you learned might be useful.
Why Talking to Relatives Is Important
You may get conflicting information during your research. Official records of births, marriages, and deaths were often not kept until some time in the 20th century. Even then, the records that were kept varied from state to state, and even county to county within those states. Because of the lack of official records, you may discover that you find two different years for someone. Getting information directly from family members can sometimes provide clarity.
Family can also provide invaluable stories that you may not be able to discover anywhere else. Talking with family is your chance to learn a rich history you can document along with the dates and names.
In tomorrow’s lesson, we will explore another way family can help with your research: providing family documents that contain valuable information. Until then, enjoy getting started talking with your relatives.
Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians by Elizabeth Shown Mills
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