How do you spell genealogy? P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E

Good genealogy takes patienceThe word that kept running through my mind as I took the excellent classes at last week’s National Genealogical Society’s conference is patience. As I listened to professional genealogists talk about strategies for success and skill building, I was reminded that good genealogy research takes time. It takes thoroughness. And it takes patience.

When I first dipped my toe into genealogy about 15 years ago, I went to an Internet cafe when I was visiting my parents (it was the days before I owned and traveled with a laptop), got on some website (probably Family Search) and started clicking through trees, going backwards in time. I created handwritten pedigree charts and was thrilled with how quickly my family tree grew.

I took everything at face value and evaluated nothing. By the time my “research” took me back to a Prince of Wales, I realized that perhaps some critical thinking was in order. I became overwhelmed at the notion of having to verify everything and put away those pedigree charts for almost a decade.

Six years ago, I decided to pick it up again and start from scratch. I’m using software now (Reunion) and nothing gets added to my tree without a source. The tree is growing slowly.

I figured out this year that I want my family tree branches to grow out, not up. While I appreciate the thrill of breaking into a new generation, I recognize now that I shouldn’t grow upward without taking the time to grow the branches outward. So I’m adding the siblings of my relatives to my tree, which can be painstaking. I’m also trying to add as many sources as possible to each fact.

In the NGS class that I mentioned in my last post, “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” Barbara Vines Little says that we should have look for every sibling in every census. That takes patience. Combing through records, particularly unindexed records, takes patience. Figuring out alternate spellings to search or exploring friends, neighbors and associates to find elusive ancestors takes patience.

Yes, it can be thrilling to click backward in time, taking other people’s research at face value. Yet the rewards of patiently and thoroughly finding and citing sources are much greater. Good genealogists are patient people. They celebrate the small victories. And they move on to the next one, however long it may take.

Photo by Greg via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprintLast Saturday, I squeezed some genealogy research in, because I had marked it on my calendar. I know that if it weren’t in my calendar, I wouldn’t have focused on my research that morning. I was preparing to go to a baby shower that morning and contemplating starting on my taxes in the afternoon. But because I’d made that commitment, I did a little something.

Keeping my commitment to doing research every weekend was important to me and I told myself that it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did something. So I spent some time creating the beginnings of a new sheet for progress tracker on more in-depth information, which I’ll share as soon as I feel it’s finalized, and I added two siblings to my tree, in an effort to flesh out my collateral lines.

As I was looking for small tasks to do in the short period of time I had allotted to me, the title of this post came to mind: Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Isn’t that the truth? Genealogy research is a lifelong endeavor in which a series of short research sessions can add to an important body of work.

In my fantasy life, I’m a wealthy retired organizer and I could spend all my time researching and perhaps traveling the country and the world (à la Who Do You Think You Are) solving research challenges.

In my real life, I’m a working organizer wedging genealogy research time in between client appointments, running a business, and family and personal obligations. So I do what I can, when I can do it (which, right now, is every Saturday or Sunday morning). And I take satisfaction in knowing that all the work will add up.

There are several tools that help me keep continuity as I do my research a little at a time:

Those things help me pick up where I left off, which has traditionally been a real challenge for me.

Whenever I get frustrated at not being able to spend more time with my genealogy research, I’m going to remind myself that this is not a sprint, and I’m in it for the long haul. Then I’ll do a little something.

Photo by Steven Pisano via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Pinning my map

The first pins on my genealogy mapI wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was purchasing a large map of the United States so that I could mark where my ancestors lived and get a better sense of my geographic origins. I figure it will also be helpful in planning research trips. Mapping my genealogy has proven to be great fun.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to how to mark the map. I didn’t know if I should include just birth places, just death places or both. Should I include marriage places? How would indicate who a pin represented? Should I color code? If so, how many colors? What kind of pins?

After a week or two of thought, yesterday I settled on this strategy:

  • I’m using one-inch-long pins with colored heads
  • I’m color-coding the pins by branch of family (to match the way I’ve color-coded my paper files, one color per grandparent and his/her ancestors)
  • I’m marking both birth and death places
  • Each pin is the appropriate color and has a flag on it indicating the ancestor and birth or death date

I’m using Avery return address labels (#5167) for the flags.  That seems to be a good size to capture the information legibly. On the first line, I put first and middle initials and last name. On the second line is the birth or death date. The info is right justified. Once I’ve printed out the label, I fold it in half around the pin and it sticks to itself.

I’ve decided to pin systematically and have started with my grandparents and great grandparents. Once I finish pinning all the ancestors for whom I have verified information and the backlog is complete, I’m anticipating the thrill of adding a pin when I establish the birth and death date of an ancestor.

I’m kind of shocked at how fun and rewarding this is. Time is flying as I work on it. A side benefit is that it’s making me realize the ancestors for whom I’m missing birth cities or counties (my paternal grandparents, for instance!).

This is just one of the many ways that family history research is such a fun and satisfying hobby for me.

Found my first immigrant ancestor!

I’ve been systematically working my way back through my family tree and I recently made an exciting discovery: my first immigrant ancestor! He’s James Brown, who was born in Ireland around 1810. He’s listed in the 1870 census as having been born in Ireland. At the time of that census, he was living in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, Martha. She was also was born in Ireland around 1820.

What’s interesting to me is that my family has always seemed quite devoid of ethnicity (most of the ancestors, I believe, came to the US much earlier than the 19th century) and when, as a child, I asked my parents where we were from, England was always the answer. In fact, I surprised my mother when I told her about her great, great grandfather having been born in Ireland. That was news to her.

I feel like this is opening up a new chapter in my family history research!