Ten Genealogical Lessons I Learned the Hard Way – New FREE webinar available for a LIMITED TIME

Here’s another great Legacy Family Tree seminar.  It’s FREE for a limited time.  Genealogist Warren Bittner shares his years of experience by sharing some of his mistakes as a researcher and how you can avoid them.  Humorous and Helpful.

Click on the link and press the “Watch Video” button.  Enjoy!

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=284

Tip # 7: How to Use Other Family Trees

Online family trees can be a blessing or a curse in your family research.

They are a curse if you…

  • Dismiss them as having no value to your research
  • Take them as “gospel” truth without question
  • Use their information without confirming its accuracy
  • Copy them to just fill in the blanks on your family tree

They are a blessing if you…

  • Use them as clues providing direction to your research
  • Ask, “Can I confirm or disprove these statements?”
  • Use them as affirmation when they agree with your completed research.
  • Connect you with other researchers interested in your family line

When I began researching my Byrd family, I met a 1st cousin I didn’t know.  Harold invited me to view his family tree on Ancestry and it has served as an invaluable guide in my Byrd family research.  Thanks Harold Byrd!  Some of the most exhaustive work done on our Byrd family has been done by Randall Byrd.  Much of his work was done in the difficult old fashion ways of the past.  Thanks Randall!

How you use family trees built by others is entirely up to you.  Keep this in mind.  Your decision will be a blessing or a curse to your family research.

Hurry! Two FREE online webinars for a very limited time. Check out these free resources.

Legacy Family Tree offers free weibnars for non-subscribers on an almost weekly basis. There are presently two FREE seminars for your viewing.  Check these out.  Simply click the view button.

American Revolution Genealogy (Until the 15th)

The War of Independence changed history; our history; our families’ history. It’s a story about which we want to know more. Did my ancestor help? …even a little? There’s much to be learned about our ancestors’ roles in this moment in history. In this class, we’ll discover where to start, what the best resources are, and how to tackle the research. So, let’s go in search of answers using the soldiers’ service and pension records and unit narratives.

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=260

Hookers, Crooks, and Kooks – Aunt Merle Didn’t Run a Boarding House (Until the 17th)

Each of us wants to ignore that scalawag, that counterfeiter, or that madam in our family, but the black sheep may prove the most interesting of all. Learn to examine clues in unusual and also common sources. Learn how they lead to locating more records.

http://www.familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=262

Tip #6: Decide to find the facts and not just fill in the blanks.

The internet enables incredible research and collaboration with others on your family’s history.  It’s also fraught with potential traps and misdirection.  A research mistake by you or others is multiplied.  In the past, a person took a blank family tree chart or family group sheet and filled in the blanks on paper as they researched their family.  It was a simple way to keep track of the “facts” they uncovered in their research.  If they were wrong, if they made a mistake in their research, very few people knew or were affected.  That’s not true today.

Family history is not a competition.  We may use games to teach our family history but the research we do is not a game.  When we fail in our due diligence and rush to fill in as many blanks as possible on an online family tree, we confuse and potentially misdirect others.  We may leave behind lies rather than facts for our families to follow.

This is NOT a call to abandon or stop posting online family trees.  I would never do that.  The collaborative aspect is much too valuable.  I’m appealing for accuracy in our research before we post and when we’re not sure about our conclusion to be very clear about our uncertainty.  And there lies the problem with family trees.  They are made up of names, dates and lines connecting those names and dates.  They create blanks for us to fill in and discourage uncertainty.  Family trees are not theses or dissertations.  They’re a simplified expression of that kind of research and thought.

It’s OK to leave blanks on family trees when we’re not reasonably certain what should go in those blanks.  It’s OK for others to question what we have put in our blanks.  We should welcome this.  It’s OK to change the information in our blanks.  It’s OK to use “abt” or “ca” or “unknown”.  Doing so may be better for you and others.

Here’s the bottom line.  You have to decide.  As the genealogist/family historian are you going to focus on finding the facts or filling in the blanks as fast as you can?  Will it be a competition or competent research?  If it’s competent research, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with confidence.

The Family Addiction We ALWAYS Talk About

The sun is shining again.  The birds are singing.  Hope springs eternal.  Baseball is back!

Grown men are playing a child’s game and loving ever minute on the field.  Baseball is the greatest game and sport ever contrived.  It’s a “thinking man’s game” and you have to be mentored into the intricacies of it, but when you are, when you know, it’s magical.

Our family enjoys baseball.  No, let’s be honest.  Our family loves baseball!  Some of the Gary Astros headshotgirls love it more than the boys.  (And know it better too)  The opening of Major League baseball is bigger than New Years and the Fourth of July rolled together.  It’s cause for celebration and we celebrate!

In the interest of family’s history, I thought I would take a few minutes to trace the origins of this fanaticism.  It’s time I take responsibility for the “mess” I’ve made and explain the origin of the disease.

I honestly can’t remember which came first.  Was it watching Saturday baseball with my big brother on Television? Or, was it looking at the baseball cards he got out of bubble gum packages?  Or, was it watching him play little league baseball while I chased foul balls to be traded for free snow cones at the concession stand?  Hey, come to think of it, I’ve found a new scapegoat for my addiction.  David did it!

By the time I was 7 I was fully hooked.  I listened to the St. Louis Cardinals on clear channel KMOX radio.  Only they were not always so clear in North Texas.  In 1965 the Houston Colt 45s changed their name to the Astros and moved into the Astrodome.  They also signed a new radio contract that brought them to KDNT in Denton, Texas.  I was in business!

Now I could hear the entire game without interruptions.  Except for my mom, who was telling me to go to bed.  That’s when my first transistor radio became my favorite all-time gift.  The little beauty had an ear piece.  I could plug it in, turn on the Astros’ game and appear to be sleeping.  I really was in business!  (Don’t tell my mom.)

And so the disease was well established at an early age.  The more I learned the game, the more I loved it.  I even played the game for a few years and had wonderful coaches and teammates.  But I must have been born to love the game because I was certainly not born to play it!  And so I talked it, taught it, watched it, took my kids to it and exposed them all to this wonderful game of baseball.  All of them caught the bug.  Some are in remission but most are still as ill as their father and infecting their kids.

The Astros played their way into the World Series in 2005.  It was their first and only time in their now 52 years they made it to the biggest of baseball stages.  I had tickets to game 4 of the Series!   But they were high up and a great distance from the field.  I managed to trade them in for box seats for game 5!  Only the game never happened.  The Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in 4 games.

Hope springs eternal.  The Astros are going to the World Series this year!  (Ok, that’s a little too hopeful and I know the game a little too well to be that hopeful, but they will be more competitive and they will return to the baseball biggest stage soon.)  They opened the season last night by beating last year’s Cy Young Award winner and the Cleveland Indians 2 – 0.  Hey, this could be their year!

Tip #5: Good Genealogists Are Skeptics

Good Monday morning!  Here’s your Backtracking the Common tip for today.  Enjoy!

All good genealogists are skeptics. They have to be. Grandpa Jones “improved” the family’s history. Aunt Sally miss-remembered. Aunt Polly covered up the date of a child’s birth to better match a wedding date. Paw Paw embellished his military record. And the beat goes on. The wrong information was recorded on records at the local, state and/or federal levels. Names are misspelled. Handwritten copies are inaccurate copies. Census takers wrote it down wrong. Informants on census records told it wrong. Informants on death records didn’t know the correct answer. How could they possibly provide it? And the beat goes on…

“I read it on the internet. It must be true.” That’s supposed to be a joke and everyone’s supposed to already know it. But I see many new (and some not so new) would be genealogists/family historians who don’t seem to get it. It’s as if we want to control the narrative of our family’s history instead of uncovering, recording, and reporting it.

To be a good genealogist we have to be truth seekers. We know we’re not bound by the past, so we’re not afraid to reveal it. We may not want to repeat it, but we look for tactful, compassionate ways to tell the true family story. We have to decide. Do we want to be myth tellers or historians?

Good genealogists are skeptics.
Collect all of the family stories you can. Be respectful of family members but be skeptical. The facts have to support the stories or they’re only stories.
• In your skepticism, remember, some stories will prove to be completely accurate and almost all stories have clues in them you need to follow.
Don’t be afraid of conflicting information. Determine to know the truth.
• Use multiple sources and work toward a preponderance of evidence.
• Once you have settled the issue in your own mind, be prepared to change it. Be open to reconsidering old and new facts.
Don’t “break up” with others over a difference of opinion.

Happy hunting!

Tip #4 Interview your family

We think we know them.  We think we know them well.  That is, until we go to write their story.  Our families are often mysteries to us.  This is why we must ask questions…lots of questions.

The beginning genealogist/family historian begins with the interview.  I want the oldest family member to answer my questions as soon as possible, but I’ll begin with whomever I have at hand.

I need FACTS to fuel my research.

  • When and where were you born?
  • Who were your parents?  When and where were they born?
  • Who were your grandparents?  When and where were they born?
  • When did you marry?  Where?  What county?
  • In what states and counties have your lived?
  • Did you or anyone in our family serve in the military?  When?  What branch?  Where?
  • What are your siblings’ names and approximate ages?
  • If their parents, grandparents, siblings are deceased, when did they die?  (Approximate dates are better than no dates.)

I need STORIES to flesh out our history.

  • What was your best childhood memory?
  • What was your favorite holiday?
  • Who was your favorite relative, teacher, neighbor, etc.?
  • Tell me about your best friend growing up.
  • What were your mom and dad like?
  • What were your grandparents like?
  • What is the best place you ever lived and why?
  • Where was the best place you ever visited?

Capture the facts and their stories.

  • When possible, send your questions in advance of your visit and interview.
  • If possible, record the interview.
  • Take extensive notes and “flesh” them out while they’re fresh on your mind.

I cannot overstate the importance of family interviews.  You need this information to backtrack your family.  You need this information to tell their story.  You need it first.  When you begin their story, be prepared to reconnect and ask more questions.  And you will have questions.  Every good historian has more questions.

Getting MORE out of your field research…

How do you get the most out of your “on the ground” research time?Binoculars

I previously blogged about a trip Dee and I took to North Texas backtracking my Roberts, Byrd, Horn, Laningham and Ingram family lines.  This was an aggressive agenda of five counties in five days.  If you haven’t seen the post, you may want to read about the scope of our discoveries.

How does the genealogist/family historian get the most done in the least amount of time?  In a word, it takes PREPARATION.

I love being able to research our family in my pajamas.  The internet has made this possible.  There’s nothing like the comfort of my easy chair and laptop for making new discoveries.  But then, there’s nothing like walking the ground on which our ancestors walked.  The fact is it takes both for us to do our “due diligence” in documenting our family histories.  To do it right, you’ll have to get out of the house.

We’ll eventually have to (and want to) take to field in order to backtrack our family’s trail.  Here are some tips to make this time more productive.

 

  1. Goals, Goals, Goals
    • Have goals for your research trip. Review your work and know what information you’re missing.
    • Know what you want to do on your trip. Be specific.
    • Write it down. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan
    • Now that you know what you want to do, how will you accomplish these goals?
    • What will be done and when will it be done in order to reach your goals?
    • Where, at what physical location, can you complete each goal?
    • What has to be done before I leave?
    • If you’re not a planner, please invite someone to help you plan. Tell them what you want to accomplish in your research and let them help you.
  3. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
    • Research the resources. What family members need to be contacted?  What interview questions do I want to ask?  What courthouses will be visited?  Cemeteries?  Libraries?  Research Centers?  Have I made my appointments?  Have I checked the open and closed hours?  Will they be closed during lunch?
    • If I’m going to a library, why? Do I know what’s available?  Have I searched the online catalogs?  What about their microfilm holdings?  Have I written down the titles and call numbers of those resources?
    • Have I planned my schedule? Do I know when I’m going where?  Prepared my maps or GPS coordinates?
    • Do I have my notebooks, maps, and cameras, contact information, etc? (I once prepared my camera equipment, had all of my batteries charged, extra memory cards and then left it all!  Dee bailed me out with her IPhone.)
    • Do I know what I want to accomplish at each stop? If I have a research partner, do we know what each other will do at each venue?
  4. Be flexible.
    • Things rarely go exactly as you plan them. This is not a reason not to plan.  It’s simply a realistic expectation.
    • Plan and prepare. Work hard at making the things happen that you want to happen.  When it doesn’t, go with it.  It helps to have a partner to remind you of this outlook.
    • Enjoy your time and space and especially the people in that space!

You can go on a trip and enjoy it without doing all of these things.  But if you want to have a great family research trip, have goals, plan and prepare.

Happy trails!

Tip #2: No Truth Without Proof

As you’re finding your family’s facts, keep in mind this saying among professional genealogists.

There is no truth without proof.

I know that statement could be debated on several levels but I want us to keep in mind its main point.  People who read your genealogy, your family history records, should be able to go to the same sources you went to and find the same set of facts.

Here’s how the Board for Certification of Genealogists puts it.  Don’t let it scare you.

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;

  • complete and accurate source citations;

  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;

  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and

  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html

Here’s my simple explanation for beginning genealogist/family historians.  When you find facts about your family, record with those facts the where, how and when your found them.  Always “leave the bread crumbs” for those who come after you.  Doing this and how to do it is an on going discussion on this blog.  Some of you may wish to use the comments section to share how you do it.

The Reluctant Genealogist Writes Again

I didn’t just jump into genealogy.  Perhaps you can identify with my struggle.

In my first post I shared how a wonderful couple, virtual strangers to me, introduced my family to my dad’s deceased grandfather whom we had never met.  Lawrence and Juanita Uhl of Jacksonville, Texas did their work the old fashion way.  They got in their car, drove to a courthouse, a library, a newspaper, a cemetery, made some calls and dug out the information, documented their research, made copies on bad copy machines and took Polaroid pictures.  After all, it was 1985.

What they did was to spark my interest and provide the foundation on which I now build my family’s history.  What they began continues through this blog and other efforts in the works to assist beginning genealogist and family historians.  I would not be writing this today if it were not for their efforts.

So, what took so long?  Their work on my behalf ended thirty years ago this fall.  Why has it taken me so long to shake that genealogical tree?  Well, that’s why I call myself the reluctant genealogist.

In 1985 my wife and I were 11 years into raising a large family.  We would eventually enjoy 7 children.  We were part of a growing church in a great community.  I was the lead pastor.  We were busy.  We were forward looking.  The only past I paid much attention to was biblical past and cultural past.  I wanted to bridge that past with the present and move into the future.  In most ways I still feel that way.  But not when it comes to family history.  My mortality was showing.  My family’s past was still clouded in the mist of the unknown.  No one could pass this on to my children and grandchildren like I could…and no one else should.

I began slowly, as time allowed, to collect facts, photos and do more and more research.  Dee and I began to use our away time to travel in and out of state to research the Roberts and the Ingram side of my family.  We shifted our focus this past year to the Byrds, Horns, Riggs, and allied families while my mother could enjoy our discoveries.  The Burns, mom’s mother’s family, is on our radar as well.  For three Christmases our large and growing family has played a game using PowerPoint slides.  We bring our family history to the present in a competitive format.  We spiced it up this past season with a few Riddles, Harrisons, Burges and Jordans (Dee’s family).   We call it Family Feud!

We’ve only scratched the surface in our research.  I hope to continue for many years to come.  I expect my children and grandchildren to read every post on this blog (Are you paying attention Roberts, Armstrongs, Collins and Willifords?).  I expect them to invite their friends to read it.  (Ok, maybe just their old friends).  I expect them to join the coming Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.  I…oh well, that’s enough dreaming.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  I hope you’ll come back often, join the conversation, share how you research your family history and then share it with others.  I’ll talk about my family and in the process hope to help others research theirs.  Welcome.