31    Dec 20101 comment

New Year: Family history plans for 2011

Some studies indicate that January is the most popular month for family history research.

Perhaps it's because people have just spent time with their families and those social gatherings may have triggered a quest, an emotional response to the universal idea of finding out who we really are, who our ancestors were and everything about them.

You may be in that category of newcomers to this passion of ours, or you might be among those who have spent decades researching your family.

In any case, the new year brings opportunities to follow up on clues, become a bit more organized and take on (or complete) tasks that you know must be done.

Many of us have these to-do lists posted by our computers - even if we don't get to them in a timely fashion - but to help readers who may not have such a list, here are some suggestions:

Always carry a small digital camera with you.  You never know when you may meet a long-lost relative, discover a relevant document in an archive, find a page in a book that mentions one of your families, or visit family that may have some fascinating (and new to you) photographs hanging on their walls or in photo albums. And make sure you have your own photos on the memory card to perhaps help along a relative's memory of a certain individual. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Obtain maps for ancestral locations.   Find your villages, towns, cities on historical maps and get copies of those maps. Mark those of interest and note adjacent towns. Branches might have lived in nearby towns, so learn the names of localities which might appear as you search databases. Check for towns in a 20-to-30-mile radius from your known ancestral location. Why? In the old days, that distance was considered a one-day trip by wagon. People went to other villages or towns for holidays, weddings or funerals. While there, they may have met future spouses or discovered business opportunities. It pays to cast a wider net.

Check new and updated databases for family names.   Many online databases are frequently updated. The last time you checked, nothing of importance was found but the database might have been updated since then. So keep checking! The researcher's mantra should be: If information isn't found today, check for it tomorrow, next week, next month or next year! If the last time you checked was six months ago, it's time to run another search!

Organize, organize, organize.   All of us are guilty of some form of disorganization and we have piles, folders and boxes of papers that may have been thrown in haphazardly. Do go through those papers and separate the family branches and place them in appropriate folders. I think we all recognize the scenario where we are online, find something of interest, print it out and it sits on our desk forever until it is put somewhere else. It happens to the best of us. Get organized and you may find some surprises!

Visit new country databases and regional websites.   So many dedicated volunteers around the world are helping to bring information to other researchers. Perhaps someone in another country has decided to preserve information from your common shared ancestral village and organize a new website. Do check periodically for your ancestral locations and learn about new databases and website that may contain useful information.

Share your research.   Have you sent out family trees as birthday or wedding gifts? Do they contain the newest discoveries? You might want to send out an updated tree. You may have uncovered more family photos, so let other relatives see them. Update your family site on MyHeritage.com with your newly discovered documents and photos. Do you know of new relatives that should be invited to see your research? As more and more people become interested in family history, relatives may - independent of your research - have unearthed relevant images and documents. Contact family members and ask if they've found anything new.

Send a family newsletter.   As the keeper of the family records, you might consider sending an annual family newsletter to relatives. Provide information on what you've recently learned, include images and documents, new family members (babies or marriages) and other details. This is easy to do and it can be sent as an electronic version. While some older relatives may not have computer access, ask their younger family members to print it out for them. Make sure to include a snail mail address so that they may be able to contact you with comments or new information.

I hope that 2011 will be a productive family history year for you and your family. If you have ideas or tips that should be added to this list, please provide comments below. I'm always interested in your comments.

Happy New Year!

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Comments (1) Trackbacks (1)
  1. dear schelley,

    happy new year!
    I wanted to let you know that the entire archival collection of The One Thousand Children was donated to and now resides at YIVO in New York City which is part of The Center for Jewish History. It is accessible to researchers and the public and is the most extensive multimedia and documentary collection on the subject in the world-- America's rescue of unaccompanied children from 1934 to 1945 (more history at www.onethousandchildren.org)

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