5 Ways to Jump Start Your Family History

Ideas for getting out of a genealogy research rut

From time to time all of our genealogical batteries seem to go dead and we need a jump start. Here are five helpful suggestions to get recharged and moving again in finding your elusive ancestors.

Jump Start No. 1: Proofread what you have already written.

When I was a fine arts major at the University of Utah many years ago, I learned an important lesson. We get tired of our work after a short time and need to step back, do something else and then come back with a critical eye. What looks perfectly well done while you have been working on it for a long time, suddenly has errors and omissions.

I have a standing challenge, that I repeat constantly: if I can have ten to fifteen minutes to look at your pedigree, I can find all sorts of contradictions, omissions and outright errors. Sometimes, we get so enamored with our own work, we fail to see the flaws. We need to put it aside for a while an then come back with our mind cleared and do the math and look for places. We do the math when we take out our calculator and start adding up the numbers that appear on our pedigree. How old were the husbands and wives when they got married? How old was the mother when each child was born? How old were the people when they died? Some genealogical database programs give you that information automatically, but have you studied out the numbers?

This is just one way of looking at genealogical information with a critical eye. Where were the people born? How did the husbands find or meet their wives? Where did they die? How did they get to the places that are shown? Do these places exist? What were the places called at the time the events occurred? Are all these places accurately shown? Once you start this process, you find your interest kindled. There is nothing like finding out you have been wrong for years to get the juices flowing.

Jump Start No. 2: Read a good book.

When I want to start working on an ancestral line I have ignored for a long time, I usually find a book about the place where the ancestors lived or about how to do research in the place where they lived. I find that reading about the history of the places where my ancestors lived always gives me an impetus to start researching. Just the fact that I have some new places to look, helps me get going and looking in the new places. Right now, I am reading a book about doing research in Northern Ireland.

I am only getting started but from the history of the area, I am already getting a lot of new ideas about how to research my Scots-Irish Ancestors and I also understand they are Scots-Irish not "Scotch Irish."

Jump Start No. 3: Attend a conference.

Genealogists are by and large isolationists. They do their work in community vacuum. If I did not teach classes regularly each week, I probably would never talk to anyone outside of my family and my church about genealogy, and both family and church have heard more than they want. Getting out and talking to other researchers is a good way to start thinking and wondering. Conferences are ready made to help us remember what we need to get moving on in our research. You may think you know it all and the classes are too basic, but you just might be surprised that something said motivates you to get moving again. Even if you can't physically or economically attend a conference such as the RootsTech Conference, you can watch the sessions live on RootsTech.org. There are also a plethora of genealogical webinars and webcasts, some taught every week. Tune in and sharpen up your skills.

Jump Start No. 4: Take a trip.

Cemeteries, archives, and just plain travel to the places where your ancestors lived can help to get you back in touch with your family. I find every time I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, that this is the place of my rejuvenation. I may not accomplish a whole lot during my visit, but I come away with all sorts of ideas about research and new places to look. Maybe Salt Lake City is out of your budget or time, but maybe it is just an afternoon spent in local cemeteries or a local library talking to the librarian. There is something about being around places where information and history are real to get us all going and thinking about our heritage.

Jump Start No. 5: Take a class.

I spent five years taking genealogy classes. Most of these classes were more challenging than anything I had attended in undergraduate school, graduate school or even law school. If you really want to get your genealogical juices flowing, take a class. If you do a Google search online, you will find all sorts of opportunities, some of them might be in your own area, but many are offered through self-study courses online. There is nothing like a little knowledge to get you out of the rut and onto productive research.

What ever you decide to do, do it with a passion. Oh, and one last thing, if you really want to have an interesting experience, start writing a blog about your family research. That will keep you awake at night thinking.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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