5 Easy Ways to Get Started with Your Family History

Ways to do family history besides doing genealogy research

There are some tried and true ways for people to be involved in family history besides doing genealogical research. I will discuss five ways that individuals and families can become involved in family history. Hopefully this involvement will lead to an interest in investigating their ancestral lines. But in each case the activities are valuable in and of themselves.

1. Write a journal

President Wilford Woodruff stated,

There is one subject I wish to speak upon and that is the keeping of a journal with respect to the dealings of God with us. . . . When the Prophet Joseph organized the Quorum of the Twelve, he counseled them to keep a history of their lives, and gave his reasons why they should do so. I have had this spirit and calling upon me since I first entered this church. I made a record from the first sermon I heard, and from that day until now I have kept a daily journal. Whenever I heard Joseph Smith preach, teach, or prophesy, I always felt it my duty to write it; I felt uneasy and could not eat, drink, or sleep until I did write." (in Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors [1964], 476-77)

It is clear, that members of the Church have been urged since early times to keep a journal. Genealogists know the value of personal journals as historical documents. As President Spencer W. Kimball said,

Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life. There may be a flash of illumination here and a story of faithfulness there. . . . Your story should be written now while it is fresh and while the true details are available. . . . What could you do better for your children and your children's children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved? Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity. . . . Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your going and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements, and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies.
Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events. . . . This is what the Lord has commanded and those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance their daily lives." (New Era, Oct. 1975)

If you are keeping a journal you are involved in family history work. It is as simple as that. With today's technology you can even keep an oral journal through a smartphone, tablet or a desktop computer.

2. Organize and preserve all of your valuable family certificates and documents

This activity may take some time but you should go through all of your papers and documents and make sure that the important certificates are preserved. I would suggest making digitized copies of each of the documents and certificates and sending copies to the individuals noted in the documents. It is very common that parents will maintain copies of the documents pertaining to their children such as birth certificates, school records, church records etc. long after the children have left the home. It is important to take the time to make digital copies of all of these documents and make sure that the individuals have copies of their own certificates.

3. Start a family newsletter or blog

If you have a blog or newsletter already, periodically make copies of the content to make sure that it is preserved. A family newsletter or blog can become an important historical document. This is especially true if the members of the family are not consistent journal writers. If you send letters to your children or other family members, be sure and keep a copy as a reference. President Spencer W. Kimball said the following about family histories:

I urge all the people of this church to give serious attention to their family histories, to encourage their parents and grandparents to write their journals, and let no family go into eternity without having left their memoirs for their children, their grandchildren, and their posterity. This is a duty and a responsibility. ... Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity." (General Conference. April 1978)
"People often use the excuse that their lives are uneventful and nobody would be interested in what they have done. But I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations. . . . Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us - and as our posterity read of our life's experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted. (President Kimball Speaks Out on Personal Journals, Ensign, Dec. 1980)

4. Visit the family cemetery and make sure the graves are taken care of and are photographed for an online program such as FindAGrave.com or BillionGraves.com

Some families have the tradition of visiting the family graves once a year. However, in our mobile society we may now live very far from the traditional family burial ground. During the time that you are visiting relatives or friends in the area where your ancestors are buried it is very important to take the time to visit the graveyards.

5. Search out and read a published history about your ancestors or about the place where they lived

Consistent with the FamilySearch push to involve members in uploading stories and photographs, it is important to do some activities that help the members of the family to remember their heritage.

Many people are surprised to find out that their family has a published family history. One place to look for such a history is to do a book search on FamilySearch. That website has over 100,000 local histories and family history books.

All of these are simple activities but lead to more involvement in our ancestors' lives and create valuable records for our descendants.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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