I got this genealogy bug late in life, past 50, and most of the people I would love to talk to are dead now. My parents and most of their siblings are still living, but if you are just considering researching your family history DON’T WAIT. In fact, you should have started yesterday! For me, there’s been a life-long interest in history, but a couple of things conspired in the spring of 2010 to kick that into a high-octane pursuit of my ancestors. One was the American version of the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” I only saw one episode, the one about Sarah Jessica Parker. Then I went to my friend’s grandfather’s 90th birthday party. They had the photo boards and all the stories going around, and some cousin of the family had put together a family history booklet with pictures and stories and maps, as well as the usual trees and lines of descent. Three months later I couldn’t stop if I had wanted to!
I started, as many do, with a free account at Ancestry.com. That lasted about a week. I signed up for the US Deluxe account. Sooner or later I’ll have to go for the full-boat World account, but I’m not there yet. I found out that one of my mother’s cousins has been the keeper of the flame for her family, and one of my cousins on my dad’s side has been doing the same. After getting in touch with them I relit the burners for them as well. I can’t seem to stop. I’ve met several other distant cousins who have also been researching their family stories for years. I stay up way to late. I read some of the articles in the Ancestry.com learning center. I discovered genealogy podcasts and now I listen to podcasts instead of radio in the car and at work. I got through 200 hours of the Genealogy Guys podcast (http://www.genealogyguys.com) in about six weeks. Now that I’ve caught up with the guys I’ve started on the Genealogy Gems podcast (http://www.genealogygems.tv). I highly recommend both! I also started researching free desktop genealogy software, then settled on buying RootsMagic 4. So far I’m very pleased.
So, yes, I think genealogy is an obsession, a wonderful obsession, but you have to be prepared for strange looks and your family may suddenly find many very important things to do when you want to call or come over, but it’s also very rewarding for those of us who pursue it. I guess some people can’t get excited over finding the wedding date of your great-great-great grandparents, but it requires no explanation for those who do!
In just a few months I’ve discovered a few things. Going back to the early 19th century, my ancestors were mostly already in Georgia, Bulloch, Warren, Screven, Effingham & Chatham Counties in SE Georgia, Early, Calhoun Decatur, Mitchell, Crisp and related counties is SW Georgia, and a few in the late 19th-early 20th centuries who lived up around Columbus (Muscogee County) or Rome (Floyd County). There were a few stragglers coming in from North Carolina or South Carolina until almost 1900, though! I'm trying to document sources wherever possible, and not just accept family tradition or other peoples' lists or family trees. I'm still new enough at this to be optimistic that something is out there somewhere even though I've met distant relatives who have been at this for 20 years who haven't been able to confirm some things with written records!
I knew it would be difficult conducting long-distance genealogical research, but it’s been surprising. Some things are easier to find than I thought, and others are harder than they have to be. I’ll try to walk you through some of both. The South in general, and Georgia in particular, have particular problems when researching genealogy. I’ll share my thoughts on these, and on the whole genealogical research process. Along the way I’ll look a bit at software and websites and books and other resources I find helpful. I hope you’ll find something useful here and please let me know if I can answer any particular questions. I can’t do professional research projects for you, but maybe we can help each other out on some issues that come up.
So that’s it for my first post. Here’s your summary:
- Get started. Don’t wait another day!
- Ancestry.com has a free account that lets you enter basic family info and helps you get started.
- Read some how-tos. Ancestry.com is a good place to start.
- If you want to keep you new addiction secret for while longer and you aren’t ready to meet real people, listening to others talk about their obsession is the next best thing, so listen to some podcasts. Go to www.genealogyguys.com or www.genealogygems.tv, or just Google “genealogy podcasts” and find some of the others. There are dozens of active podcasts at any given point in time.