January 11th, 2013

Nine Nifty New Years Resolutions for Genealogists

It’s 2013 and many of us have made our resolutions for the year and so far are sticking to them, right! This year I am making some genealogical resolutions, which you might want to consider as well. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the ancestor hunt that I forget about other important things. I have so many piles of notes strewn about, shoeboxes overflowing with photographs that aren’t labeled yet, and half finished courses that I haven’t seemed to be able to get quite through! And that’s just some of the stuff!

Yes, my genealogical life is a shambles, but I’ve made these nine New Years resolutions that I hope will take my genealogical research to the next level. I’m not suggesting that you need to do all nine; in fact you’re probably much more organized than I am! If there is an area you need to work on however, you’re more than likely to find it among my resolutions. Let’s make 2013 the year we get really serious about our genealogical research; get organized, focus, and improve our research skills!

Resolution #1 – Interview Relatives

Sometimes we spend too much time on the Internet or in other archives researching when the answer we seek is just an interview with a relative away. Some of our relatives are walking archives when it comes to information about our family. They are an often-overlooked resource that we should really consult more often. If you haven’t yet, get in touch with a relative (preferably an older one), and arrange an interview. Besides being informative, it might be fun as well. If you have interviewed most of your immediate family members, extend your search to include extended family, sometimes they have information we won’t find anywhere else.

Resolution #2 – Finish a Class (Or Take One if You Haven’t Yet)

I’m definitely going to finish one of the courses I started last year. I enjoyed learning new skills, and look forward to really knuckling down this year and learning as much as I can. No matter how long you’ve been practicing genealogy, there is always a new frontier emerging. If you haven’t taken a class yet, make this the year you do. Genealogical societies and libraries in your area will most likely have a variety available throughout the year. If you can’t find one in your area, there are many opportunities online, and many of them are free!

Resolution #3 – Interact More With Other Researchers

The old adage that two heads are better than one is especially true in genealogy. Team up with other people who are researching the same family name as you are. Historical and genealogical societies might even be able to introduce you to someone. Another way of becoming more involved with others is to help with transcriptions, there are never enough transcribers, and though it can be long tedious work, it is extremely rewarding. Besides the camaraderie you’ll share, you may also learn new skills, and imagine the pride you will have in helping to preserve vital historical documents.

Resolution #4 – Organize, Organize, Organize!

This is one I’m going to really concentrate on this year, as every good researcher should! Although many of us dread this aspect of our family history research, it really is of benefit in the long run. In fact, becoming better organized can help our research to become more focused and efficient. File those family group records in proper binders, and label those boxes! I know it can be overwhelming, but if you set aside just a little time each week, you’ll have it sorted in no time. And besides, there may always be the bonus of discovering new clues you hadn’t noticed or had overlooked before!

Resolution #5 – File Those Photos

This could fall under the previous resolution, but if you have as many pictures as I do you’ll understand it’s a separate project on its own! I have piles of family photos lying around or stored in boxes just waiting for me to label and file them. I’m going to digitize most of them, but I will still want to keep the originals in as good condition as possible. I may not have time to place all of them in scrapbooks, but I will definitely label and date them all before placing them in good quality plastic sleeves for storage.

Resolution #6 – Keep Up on Correspondence

Have you ever asked a question in a genealogy forum and then forgot to check back for an answer? I have, and it’s possible I missed out on some vital family data. I have also corresponded with other researchers by mail, but I rarely put my genealogical contacts in my address book. I rather have letters lying around with the addresses on the back of the envelope, some of which are illegible because they were torn when I opened the letter. This year I’m going to create a special address book with the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of all of my genealogical contacts along with a short description of what I am corresponding with them about. That way at a glance I’ll be able to determine whether I need to follow up or not.

Resolution # 7 – Get to Really Know My Ancestors

I’m going to learn more than names and dates this year; I’m going to study personalities. It is so easy to get caught up in the collection of data that we forget to enjoy the human aspect of genealogy. This is the real reward, getting to know our ancestors, what kind of people they were, who their friends were, what challenges they faced, and things like that. Take the time to digitally record any family stories you hear from relatives or discover during your research so that they are not lost forever. Getting to know our ancestors, really know them, is the reason we began our genealogical quest in the first place. Hold onto that passion and excitement you first felt when you discovered your first relative, but from now on take the time to treasure them and really get to know them.

Resolution# 8 – Share My Research More

Sharing what you find with others is one of the most rewarding aspects of genealogical research. People are always fascinated when I tell them what I’ve found, and always curious to know how I did. You might think you’re family are not so interested in your research, but you may just be surprised. Organize a portable, mini-family tree file that you can take with you when you visit relatives. Share old family photos with them and make copies if you can so they can keep one. Email is a great way to stay in touch with family members about your research, and you’d be surprised how many of your relatives will look forward to your latest update once you begin sharing your progress with them!

Resolution#9 – Help Others More

When I first began researching my family history so many genealogists were helpful to me. Sometimes I was completely lost and overwhelmed, but the patient, helping hands of many other researchers kept me going. Some of those who helped me were professional researchers, and when I told them I couldn’t afford to hire a pro I was met with a kind-hearted chuckle. This year I will return the favor as often as I can to as many budding genealogists as possible. One way to do this is to participate in forums, another to answer questions for mailing lists. By introducing newcomers to the kindness we received when we began, we encourage them to develop that same mindset for future generations.

So there you have it, my nine Genealogical New Years resolutions! I’m sure I could make more, but I have my work cut out with these. Hopefully you will get some ideas as to where you can improve your family history project. The point is to take this New Year and use it to develop skills and qualities that we haven’t yet. Don’t lose sight of why we do this however, and continue to enjoy the wonderful privilege we have of learning about our family’s heritage and sharing that fun with others. Happy New Year, and good luck in all of your genealogical endeavors for 2013!