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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

5 Things Every Family Historian Should Be Doing Now

After 30 years of doing genealogy research and making many mistakes, I have discovered five things every family historian should do to have more success while building their family tree.

Are you doing all five?

Preserve the Perishable

Fires, floods, earthquakes, illness, moves, and divorces can damage a family archive. Unfortunately, such damage often builds a genealogy brick wall that did not have to exist.

For instance, my first cousin, once removed, promised to send me a box of photos and papers that belonged to my Geiszler grandparents. My Grandma Helen had a wall of photos and documents about my Geiszler line, an extreme mystery. Sadly, a fire destroyed my cousin's home before shipping the box. My German heritage went up in flames with her house.

Be sure you're taking time to digitize, organize, and share outside your home the following:

  1. Papers - certificates, bibles, journals, programs, and other documentation of the lives of someone living today (or in their recent memory).

  2. Photos - loose images, scrapbooks, images mounted on walls

  3. Possessions - clothing, wall art, dishware, and other keepsakes that tell the story of a family or individual.

Don't kick yourself for not taking the time to ask the questions, save the photos, and scan a document that could open the gateway to the past.

Leverage the Living

Mortality stares me in the face every day. I'm not getting any younger. Plus, my last living ancestor died ten years ago. I plead with every family historian to put as much effort into preserving the living as they seek to build their family tree. No one living today should require genealogy research in the future.

Take time to record the memories and knowledge of living individuals and the ancestors they knew in audio, video, or written form. Every fact or story they share adds depth to our family tree.

To join the online discussion, watch this video.

Test the Oldest Living Relative

Genealogical DNA testing has the power to break down brick walls and overturn what you thought you knew about your family tree. The more known relatives who test, the better chance you have of building your genetic lineage because you don't have all the DNA of your ancestors.

While it's essential for you to take a DNA test, also test your oldest living relatives. Of course, these kinsfolk could be grandparents and parents, including aunts, uncles, siblings, first cousins, and distant cousins. The more people you test and know how they should be related, the better chance you have of success in tree building using unknown DNA matches.

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Building a Family Tree Based on Sources

Nearly every genealogist knows they should build their family tree to identify their family history. However, experienced researchers also realize they need to cite their sources, whether paper, photos, people's knowledge, or DNA results.

Thus, I'll briefly remind you to start with yourself on any family tree-building program. First, add sources to document your life. Then work back to the past, connecting every preceding generation. Finally, don't tackle that brick wall ancestor until you've found sources for every person you call kin.

Share Your Family Tree Publicly and Online

I feel heartbroken as fellow genealogists discuss having a private family tree that they have no plans on sharing. Well, that's not true. They plan on passing their research on to their children, but they admit the children likely aren't interested in their heritage.

I need security for my meaningful contributions toward leaving a legacy. Therefore, I share my family history discoveries with the general public. This action involves a public tree on Ancestry and MyHeritage and contributing to WikiTree and FamilySearch.

To ensure our research outlives us, we develop the habit of sharing our research with the public. Of course, there are times to have some segments of our projects private while we resolve a research question. However, that should be an exception rather than the rule.

If we take the time to do all five of these tasks while researching our family history, our efforts will feel rewarding and pave the way for our descendants to know from where they came.

So, which of the five categories are you struggling with or succeeding in? Let me know below.

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