So, you’ve been researching and documenting your family history for a few years now and have a long list of places to visit and facts to track down. Where should you start? What are the most important things that you should do first?
For me, the two most urgent items that you should act on – now – are: scanning all of your old family photos; and finding & writing down your family stories.
Why? Because these are in your control.
Global services like GenealogyBank and FamilySearch are putting millions of original records online. They are there ready for you 24/7 as you have time to do the research.
What is not online – and not preserved – are your old family photos and stories.
Your old family photos are unique to you. You might have the only surviving copy of that photo – and only you can identify the people in the image, provide the context, and tell why they are important to your family’s history.
Genealogy Tip: Organize yourself and decide to scan and upload a few photos every day. Maybe it’s three per day – maybe you can do more. You decide, and go to work.
You know the stories: start now to write them down.
Here’s a tip: pace yourself. Write down one story at a time.
I was talking with my brother over the weekend and he mentioned the time when we were both stationed in the Navy on the USS Albert T. Harris in the 1960s. As we talked the memories came back. After we spoke I took a moment to grab a photo of that ship from Wikipedia and write up a brief story of our memories of that experience while they were fresh in my mind – just a few paragraphs.
Looking at the old photo of the ship brought back memories of being on board and the experiences we had. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that the ship was decommissioned in 1968 and destroyed in 1969.
Now I had one more story written down.
I didn’t try to write the entire story of everyone in the family all at once. But I am finding that by writing one piece of the story at a time, I am painlessly pulling together a more complete family history.
Over months of now and again writing up each story, I am in fact pulling together what will become our family history.
There are family stories that I don’t know – but I am finding those in the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.
Time and time again I’ve found a piece here and a piece there to pull together our family history over the past 300 years.
What details are in the obituaries of my relatives; in their wedding announcements? Newspapers covered every day of their lives: the milestone dates they celebrated and all of the days in between.
I have learned so much about the family – and used each newspaper clipping to generate the “story” that goes with it. Carefully sift through the newspapers and find the articles about your family.
By using the old newspaper articles and old family photos to trigger your memories, you can pace yourself and write up your family’s stories – one episode at a time.
Start now and soon you’ll be surprised at just how complete and interesting your family history is.
Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom is an internationally known librarian and archivist. He is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history. An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for over 50 years.
Tom previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, D.C.) and as Library Director of both the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Photo Source #1 : FamilySearch.org
Photo Source #2: USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). Source: Wikipedia.
Photo Source #3: Thomas J. Kemp
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