Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Known leads to the Unknown

Whatever happened to so-and-so who used to visit when I was a kid?  Why did the grownups never talk about a certain relative or skirt the conversation around a  family event?  Where did I come from?  Curiosity sparks the imagination and determination to search for family. 

Getting started may seem daunting, but any family history project can begin very simply with paper and pencil.   Begin by listing everything you know about all your living relatives or that specific family member or event.  Record dates and places of birth, death, and marriage for each person.   Organize your notes by family groupings.  When one generation is recorded, step back to the previous generation to record their information.  As the recording progresses, information gaps will become apparent: a birth or marriage date is unknown but the couple definitely has children or is married, a person disappears after a certain date. 

As you make your lists and notes, you may want to contact family members who might fill in some of these information gaps.  Jot down, or better yet, record in audio or video everything--fact or anecdote--no matter how trivial or mundane sounding.  Those little tidbits may be the clue that ends in a Eureka! moment leading to a new branch in your family tree.

Search for records and resources that will fill in the information gaps.  Get copies and make notes of where you find your information, in case you need to revisit those record sources again or someone wants to cross check your source to help their own family history project.  Where you can't find a single record, look for other sources that will provide corroborating information when taken together as a whole.  In compiling and analyzing all your data, you can answer your original question, using what you know to discover the unknown. 

Go, get started!

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