Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are some questions that come up over and over when I give presentations and the answers I typically give.

How did you get started?I lived with 10 miles of my great-grandparents as a child.  They had 8 children.  At least 5 of their children, along with grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all lived within 20 miles.  Every visit to their house was filled with people.  I was constantly being told that ‘so-and-so’ was my cousin and I needed a chart to keep track of all these cousins and how we were related.
Why am I a Genealogist?I like history, culture, and old documents.  I find it thoroughly entertaining to learn about other places in the world where my family lived as well as how my ancestors are connected to historical events at the local, state, federal, and global levels.
What is your favorite part about genealogy?As a language major in college, I always enjoyed learning about other cultures.  Diving even deeper into another country’s culture and history is probably my favorite part after finding photographs and signatures of my direct ancestors.
What’s the first step?I always recommend that you start with yourself, your own home, and then your living relatives.  Write down what you know about the birth, marriage, and death of direct ancestors and their families.  Look on your own bookshelves, in photo albums, and in boxes in the attic and basement for clues to things done by and for your ancestors.  I’m sure you have obituaries, wedding invitations, birth announcements, and other ephemera that will help tell the story of your ancestors’ lives.
How does the process of working with a professional start?Think about what you need assistance with.  Narrow it down to something that can be done in a reasonable amount of time by an expert in that field.  You will provide the selected professional with your genealogical research question, as well as some background information about the subject of your question.  They will propose a time frame and a cost for them to try to answer your question. If you agree to their suggestions, a contract is usually signed by both parties.  Now – you stop researching this question!  Let the professional complete the research and return a report to you with their findings and suggestions for additional work on the question or subject.
Where do you travel for genealogy?For research purposes, I travel to the places where my ancestors lived.  I visit libraries, historical societies, genealogy societies, relatives, town halls, courthouses, and any other place that may have information related to my family story.
How long will it take?It can take years, or perhaps just minutes.  It’s very common in genealogy for questions like this to be answered with two words – IT DEPENDS.  You need to determine what your goal is – names & dates for your direct ancestors; stories about all the descendants of your earliest immigrant ancestor; photographs to fill a particular area of your home.  Each goal will require different amounts of research.  Most importantly, adjust your goal as you go.  When starting out, you need to set some boundaries – do you really need to know about grandma’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law?  Perhaps, if there’s a great story in there, but more likely it’s a ‘rabbit hole’ that pulled you in accidentally.
How far back can you go?This is completely dependent upon the geographic area you need to research, the laws of that area regarding public records, any damage or loss caused by natural and man-made catastrophes, and your own tenacity.  The most important thing is to have the attitude of doing the best you can – perfection is out of reach, so don’t strain yourself reaching for it!
What if I’m nervous about this?It’s natural to be leery about what you might find. No one wants to be a descendant of a legendary criminal. But, then again, they leave more records and create better stories to share with your family.  Remember that you are sharing FACTS.  You did not create the facts, you simply uncovered them.  If the fact may negatively impact someone currently living, you don’t need to share it at all.  Most importantly, in sharing a set of facts, you put them into the context of the social time in which they occurred.  We all have examples of things our great-grandparents did in their lives that would not be ‘acceptable’ today, because times have changed.
What other interests tie in with genealogy?This is a long list.  If you are interested in photography, you may focus more on photographic images in your research.  If you are interested in architecture, you may focus on the homes of ancestors.  There are ways to focus your research on the clothing, hairstyles, furniture, or technology while researching your family history.
What software should I use to track everything?This is definitely an “it depends” answer.  You need to determine if you want to store your data on-line or not.  For your own computer, there are several options for a free version of various packages – just search ‘free genealogy software downloads’.  On the Internet, you want to be sure you understand how a site handles your data – especially that of living individuals.  Remember the names, dates, and places portion of your family tree are primarily public information.  However, protecting the privacy, especially in this day and age, of living individuals needs to be a concern of everyone posting on the Internet.

For an organized look at websites for Genealogy, visit my page on Pinterest.