52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fresh Start

The first week of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is Fresh Start. This was a little difficult for me to approach regarding genealogy because I wished I had some great family story about fresh starts like whatever ancestor decided to immigrate from Europe to America or some similar big adventure. However, I don’t I’m still relatively young on my own journey and my genealogy work so far is a bit of a mess.

So I’m making a fresh start myself on this work. I’m releasing expectations and renewing, refreshing my enjoyment of the work itself.

I have tools in hand – my Ancestry membership, Family Search, and my genealogy workbooks along with some great pens (archival ink, of course) and determination. This is gonna be a good year.

Let me know where you are on your genealogy journey in the comments!

52 Ancestors in 2020

Sporadic is a kind way to put my genealogy practice. I get an urge or come across a bit of information then jump into my genealogy work head first for a few days. I work on it obsessively when I’m into it…then I barely think about it. Its not a great way to be because when I do come back to it, I feel like I have to start all over again. I’m disorganized, I don’t leave a very good trail for myself, and since having a kid my memory just isn’t what it used to be.

So when I was gifted some genealogy workbooks for Christmas, I knew I wanted to become more disciplined in my work in 2020. I needed a plan, something to keep me accountable.

In my inbox, I saw some emails from genealogy expert Amy Johnson Crow. She has an awesome blog if you’re interested in genealogy, and, even better, a genealogy prompt challenge! 52 Ancestors is a weekly prompt challenge to inspire genealogy work and WRITING! Its not just about digging into some papers on an ancestor and updating the tree as much as possible.

Amy says, “You’ve worked hard on your genealogy. You’ve made some fantastic discoveries. But what do you actually do with it? Those discoveries don’t do much good just sitting in your file cabinet or on your computer.” I knew this is exactly what I needed!

In 2020 I will be doing the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts. My hope is to each week have a blog post here inspired by the prompts given. You can find me also on Instagram where I will be using the hashtag 52Ancestors.

I’ll see you all in January with the first blog prompt: Fresh Start

Advice for the Beginner Genealogist

I’ve compiled a list of advice from pro genealogists and thought I’d share these golden words with you all. Some of its common sense, all of it is a great reminder.

Always start from yourself and work from there.

Don’t forget to write your own history. Be a good ancestor.

Honor your living relatives. Don’t post their information online without it being protected. Don’t go against any of their wishes to not have certain pieces of information made public or put online. Don’t disrespect them or your ancestors when interviewing or asking for information.

You can’t do it all for free. This goes for online searches, accessing archives, or even getting documents and information from relatives. You gotta give something to get something more often than not whether its buying dinner or paying for a membership.

Don’t make assumptions. Never assume a document doesn’t exist because you can’t find it online. Never assume a relative in one family tree is the same one in yours without proof. Never assume that a name and date will be the same in any database or document (name spellings and dates even on vital stats documents are notoriously different from person to person, page to page).

Verify, verify, verify. Again with not making assumptions. Verify your research with two independent sources. Most common question in genealogy: “Says who?”

Be organized and consistent online and off with your data. Keep notes on everything.

Record things as they are, not as you would like them to be.

Be careful of expectations. Don’t expect to find your whole family tree online. Do expect surprises.

Don’t wait to get stories and DNA from elderly relatives. Bring along photos and ask who was in them, where they were taken, when, etc. Write it all down or record it.

Ask for help. Reach out to relatives, genealogy associations, groups online, etc. Be willing to learn.

Don’t write a chart in pen.

Call ahead. Do not expect a records office, library, etc to be open just because its their usual office hours. Always call ahead.

Remember to have fun. Keep it in perspective. Family history is important but so is living and taking care of yourself.

For more standard rules of genealogy and great advice check out:

Lonetester HQ

The Genealogy Do Over Workbook by Thomas MacEntee (affiliate link)

Tips on Being a Good Ancestor

When we look at family history and genealogy we don’t often think about ourselves and our living relatives. The focus is usually on our beloved dead and researching their lives, especially if we never knew them. The thing is, we all will be them one day, not to be too morbid, and our descendants will want that information about us.

Think about your most recent family history frustration – When was this picture taken and who are all these people photographed with no notation? How come great-granny never kept any of her love letters from great-grandad when he was at war? Why can’t I find any information about Uncle so-and-so when Aunt so-and-so has all kinds of documents?

Don’t me your future descendant’s frustrating, brick wall relative. Don’t you wish one of your ancestors had made it easy on you by keeping documents and making notes?

Tips on Being a Good Ancestor

  1. Start With You in your Genealogy. I talked about this already when I shared 2 important pieces of advice – start with yourself and go one step at a time. Don’t leave yourself out of the picture just because you already know all there is to know about you. One day, someone will wish they had known you and you wont be around for them to chat.
  2. Keep and save documents. You don’t have to keep every receipt and scrap of paper – this is not Hoarders. But keep certificates, licenses, deeds, photographs, letters, cards, postcards, etc. While it might not be all that important to you that you got a post card from your cousin when they were away at college it sure would come in handy to your descendant genealogist.
  3. Make notes. Keep notes of who is in photographs and what date they were taken and where. Make note of your relationships to the people in the pictures or who have send you cards and letters. Again, just because you know doesn’t mean your great grand niece will.
  4. Digitize. This might make some of you feel less stressed about keeping everything. Keep digital copies of your documents, pictures, etc. Even photographs of heirlooms like quilts, antiques, etc. Sadly, things happen from house fires to tornadoes and documents that were only on paper can be lost forever. That being said, make sure your digital documents are properly saved so that a computer crash or website closure doesn’t destroy all trace of them as well.
  5. Keep a journal. I would have loved a peek into the daily life of some of my ancestors. I know most journals are personal and it might feel embarrassing that your descendants might read about an unrequited love or that time you stole a candy bar or whatever. If it is a journal you plan to hand down, perhaps keep it separate from something that is meant to be secret and cathartic. Keep dates, when you meet people, how you feel about current events in your life and on a larger scale, and so on. Stick movie stubs, concert tickets, and favorite recipes in your journal. Let it be a doorway for the future to glimpse into the past.
  6. Make note of current events. Where were you? What was going on? How did you feel about it? Are you part of it? Keep documentation along with newspaper clippings. Again, digitize.
  7. Interview and write down the stories of your living relatives. Not everyone is interested in family history and passing on their stories so it is up to the family historian and genealogist to think of these things. Start with your elderly, get their stories – where they were at major events, important parts of their lives from their first car to their marriage to the birth of their children, etc. Remember to get stories from cousins, family friends, and distant relations as well. This isn’t about you, its about your descendants who might not be part of your direct line.

One Step at a Time, Starting With You

This is the single best piece of advice any genealogy enthusiast can have is to go one step at a time. The single best piece of advice any NEW genealogy seeker can have is to start with themselves. That’s it, go one step, one person, one document at a time and start with yourself. Sounds easy enough.

Why start with yourself when the focus is on your ancestors? Well, you want to start with you and branch out on your tree with your parents and grandparents and so on because if you try to start with a noteworthy ancestor and trace back to you, you might end up spending a lot of time getting tangled up proving something that…just isn’t there. Instead, be patient and start with you.

What does starting with yourself look like? it can be as simple as putting your name on a sheet of paper then your parents, then their parents. This is the beginning of your family tree lay out. However I also want to remind you of the other piece of information – one step at a time.

Don’t just throw names on a family tree and keep going from there. What will happen (happened to me) is that you will eventually hit a “brick wall” meaning you don’t have any more names to add and no information for tracking those names. This will force you to go back and start adding those important bits of genealogical information on your family tree to help you sort through the names. This can feel tricky and tedious once you have a bunch of names and branches to juggle. You might also not add in enough to carry you through to the next brick wall so even if you find the names you’re looking for, you might end up coming back again and again instead of forging ahead.

Start with You, One Person and Document at a Time

So start with you, and add your vital statistics and information. Add your birth and birth certificate. Add your marriage, if you are married, and marriage license. Add your occupations, where you’ve lived, when and why you moved, etc.

Once you fill in all that info, add your parents. All of it from birth through death or to their current age.

Then add your grandparents. Continue on, one person at a time. Be detailed. Add information about documents you find, take pictures, add notes and stories where you can.

Not as adventurous sounding as pushing ahead to find your 8th great grandfather? I know but all of the foundation work does help in the long run.

Learn from My Mistakes

I have to take my own advice here. I added a TON of names to my husbands (Damon Chad Bryant) family tree a while back based on a folder of genealogy research his mom (Kathy Butler nee Reynolds) gave me. Now I have reached the end of the line on most if not all of those names (some leaving me stranged in England and Wales) and I have to go back many many many generations to fill in the blanks.

In my own family tree, a while back I added a ton of names to our tree only to find that one of them was wrong, not our ancestor or, at least not proven to be, and I had a delete a large chunk not to mention a couple of days of work. Talk about frustrating. Don’t do this! Start with yourself and go one step at a time!

DNA Test Brings Together Sisters

While they were always aware they had a half-sister, Kim (my mom) and Vanessa Fields, daughters of Walter Fields, first met their half sister, Ginger Peters nee Gibson, last year (2018). This meeting and beginning of a long friendship was made possible through the genealogy work and DNA tests through 23andMe done by Ginger and cousin Joe Fields.

We often hear the family connections made from DNA sites with family members that never knew of each others existence but I think that this connection is just as awesome and interesting to consider. Reaching out to family members might not always be easy, even if you are aware of each other. Tools like 23andMe and Ancestry can help break the ice when both parties make their interest known on those platforms.

I for one look forward to the future connections these tools allow me to make. I hope that this encourages you to step in and do the same by trying out genealogy and DNA tools that you are drawn to.

A Descendant

We all come from somewhere. It is a simple fact devoid of politics, religion, and culture. Babies are born and whether they are raised by their birth parents or sent out into the world without knowledge of family, they still come from some line of people and people mean stories and stories mean history. I’m December, a descendant, and I am an amateur history geek.

I was introduced to genealogy in the 7th grade by my social studies teacher, Mrs. Graves. She assigned us a genealogy project. We had to go back a certain number of generations on our family tree charts (I think it was 6 generations), collect stories from living relatives, and make copies of what records we could get our young hands on. It was my first glimpse of history from a new perspective. Until then, history was something in books or movies that happened to other people. Now, hearing and reading these stories and dates, history was about my own family living through these major events and, in a way my pre-teen brain couldn’t quite puzzle out but knew inherently, that meant history was also about me as a descendant of these people.

Why do this?

Why study and puzzle through genealogy now that I’m no longer in 7th grade social studies and Mrs. Graves, I’m sure, has long forgotten the student that would not shut up in class?

  • Because if my history teachers through the years have taught me one thing at all it is that history, if not learned from or perhaps even when it is learned from, repeats itself.
  • Because the true cliche is, how can you know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been…or, at least, where your DNA has been.
  • Because I have a little boy who I want to be able to tell stories to.
  • Because I wish I could have met my grandfather and so many other people I’ve learned about.
  • Because learning about my relatives living through major historical events really makes me care about that part of history in a way that I still have a hard time explaining. It makes it real when so much of history and stories feel like fiction in books and on screen.
  • Because in an age of futuristic disconnect with people, this reconnects me.

So why blog about it? Well, because I need help sometimes. This blog by itself I’m hoping will help me organize my thoughts a little. Its yet another record to keep track of the overwhelm that can happen when looking at genealogy papers and sites and more. Its a place I can share my own story, my enthusiasm and frustration. Its also a place I hope I can use to reach out to other relatives – showing them what I’ve found as well as asking for more information if they can provide or point me in the right direction.

I said before I’m an amateur history geek. As a college drop out and stay at home mom, I do not claim to know what I am doing. I read articles, watch video tutorials, read blogs, and spend hours on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com. I dislike calling something so personal a hobby, but that’s what it is in that nothing from this blog or my research should be taken as scripture. I’ve made mistakes, I’m sure to make more mistakes, but that can be part of the fun sometimes. That’s what Mountain Laurel Genealogy is all about for now – fun.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, fellow descendants. I hope we can learn from each other.