Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Genealogy Lessons Learned in 2014 - Part 1

Everybody loves "top 10" lists. This is the first of two posts about my top 10 list of genealogy lessons learned in 2014, a year of cousin connections as well as ongoing mysteries. In no particular order:

10. Ancestor landing pages work. Several cousins contacted me in 2014 after searching for family names and landing on my ancestor pages. At left, my 23-month readership for each landing page. (Mystery photos, Mayflower page, and 52 Ancestors pages are less than a year old.) Even when I don't blog about a particular family for months, the landing page still attracts views. Lesson: Consider additional ancestor landing pages and be sure to update as needed.**

9. Facebook genealogy pages are fantastic sources of ideas and info. There are more than 4,100 genealogy pages on Facebook, and I've joined a couple of dozen to learn more about genealogy resources in specific areas (like New York City) and to ask questions. That's how I learned where to send for certain naturalization papers, marriage documents, and more. Simply reading the posts by researchers and experts has enriched my family history knowledge. Plus I've actually connected with cousins through the surname lists on some of these county genealogy pages. Lesson: Click to join more Facebook genealogy pages! Scroll through posts for general knowledge, post questions, and give back by posting responses and links where appropriate.

8. Every old photo album reveals a story--beyond the individual photos. Lucky me: Given access to my late father-in-law's early, intact photo albums for scanning purposes, I've uncovered new stories and relationships that he never mentioned. Like the summer his dad bought a 1917 Ford and drove from Ohio to Chicago to see relatives. Between the captions and the number and order of the photos in the album, we confirmed genealogical suspicions about who's who, who was really important to this family, and where people fit on the family tree. Not to mention learning about this family's daily life by taking a magnifying glass to the photos. Lesson: Analyze the sequence and number of photos, as well as the content of each photo and each caption.

7. Try creative online searches. So much new info becomes available online every week (and not just on Ancestry or Family Search) that it's hard to keep up. But when I research "new" relatives, I do a general Web search for "first name last name" AND "last name, first name" at the very least. If too many results pop up, sometimes I add "AND genealogy" to the names or add the city or state or a meaningful year. Also I've had incredible luck with newspaper databases this year, again being creative because "first name last name" doesn't always work. Also try Linkpendium, browse the geographic link pages, and search from there. Lesson: Cast a wide net on searches, since ancestors often moved around or did interesting things (like get married or arrested) in unexpected places. And somebody who has the same surname but isn't familiar may actually be a distant relative or know a distant relative.

6. Spend the money to obtain original documents for key relatives. No, I'm not a billionaire (or even a millionaire), but sometimes there's no other way to find out a female ancestor's maiden name or other vital info on vital records, short of visiting an office or archive in person. This year I've paid for microfilms from Family Search to see NYC death records and purchased nearly a dozen original marriage documents in search of the Roth and Lebowitz family connections, not to mention several UK birth and death records. What I learned illuminated family relationships and helped me sketch out my cousins' family trees. Of course I also wound up with my share of puzzles, too. Lesson: Figure out what I need and what I hope to learn before I write the check, and then if it makes sense, order the documents and cross my fingers that my ancestors told the truth.

More lessons learned in Part 2.

** A few days after writing this, I added a new Farkas & Kunstler landing page :)



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