Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Get Started: One Family At a Time

( In the middle of the night I realized I'd forgotten to include how to start using the file system! So I've added it in italics! )

What would your expectations be of a young child given a puzzle of one thousand pieces? Try it as an experiment someday. I'm pretty sure we'll all come to similar conclusions.

 Here's what I found.

At first there's excitement. The good news is that there's a reference point: the picture on the box. Bad news: when you open the box you have to make a few decisions like, what do I do first, and what do I do if I get stuck and can't go any further? And, won't anyone help me? The challenge and the promise are alluring when early on a random success is had matching two pieces together. But when the hunt doesn't result in success often enough, frustration and defeat inevitably set in. 

Give the same child some experience with a simple puzzle of very few pieces and sit with them as they put it together over and over again, learning and mastering basic principles and you'll see other traits develop, ones that encourage overcoming frustration. Isn't it wonderful to see a child taking baby steps to independence in anything?

That's what drives me to teach people why we start small with genealogical research. It's as important as learning to crawl in the brain development of human beings. I know there are differing opinions on the research, but the analogy of the development of the left brain / right brain balance to family history research is fun. Left brain fact-finding and analysis marrying the right brain's love of the big picture and story-telling is what I'm after when working with someone on finding their roots. One compliments and drives the other.

The basics of putting together puzzles are the same for family history research. Here are some analogies I found:

1. Identify the edge pieces ( parents) and put them to the side.

2. Group together similar colors and patterns ( put in file folders those who are in the same generation and then separate them into family groups).

3. Start with the edges and work on putting together the puzzle as you have time, making sure that your piles are undisturbed!

Note: Here's a little bit of a shift from the big picture to a smaller one. Each puzzle equals one family group. Finish it! The knowledge and experience gained by sticking to it 'til it's done will take you to the next group better equipped to succeed.

So, let's say you're starting from square one. Where do you begin? After you've done what I outlined as homework in my previous post Getting Started: Gather Your Tools,  it's best to start at the logical place: with yourself and your family.

1. Get your worksheet and the file box you made.

2. Take out file #1 and fill out the family group and pedigree forms that you put in the file. Use all of the collected documents that you placed in there with names dates and places.

3. If you don't remember birth dates and places, write a letter, get on the phone, or use email or Facebook for a quick conversation to get the information you need. Ask for copies of documents to support the birth, marriage or death of a person. Remember to put those copies in the corresponding file folder.

4. Transfer this information to box #1 on the worksheet. File the folder away!

5. Repeat the process for #1's parents ( #2/3). At this point you can look to or to get copies of original documents. Do as much as possible to get the family information complete. It's hard to explain why, but if you take the time and make an effort to work on completing a whole family, the next generation's research is easier.

Now, whenever you have a few minutes you can pull out a file folder, fill in some information, transfer it to the worksheet, file the folder away and do a little research on that family group, adding new facts to the worksheet and adding newly-found documents to the corresponding file folder, updating the pedigree / family group forms as well.

Sometimes during a conversation you'll get a random tidbit of information that's relevant to another family group. Add it in pencil immediately to the worksheet. You may be excited to follow a new path made available to you, and that's fun. Just don't let it distract you for too long from your objective of completing and connecting family groups one generation at a time.

If you ever get stuck and can't get through a virtual impasse, stop! Take a look at your tools. Is there one that you could revisit? Just like going through the available, unused puzzle pieces. Sometimes it's best to look at things a second and third time to see them differently.Sometimes starting a new family group in the next generation will give you a clue to missing information in a previous generation.

Just remember, like a puzzle, we're connected on many levels. One level is as families. We are responsible to find, organize, teach, nurture and cherish them no matter how diverse our beliefs, traditions or values have become. We are all richer spiritually and emotionally when we discover our connectivity on the many levels that this human experience offers.

Again, email me with comments, suggestions or needs at Thanks for reading!

( Any grammatical, spelling or other kinds of errors are due to my talent of being intensely focused being momentarily overpowered by my fondness for very adorable distractions that time their need with my writing, and proceed to tell me how worried they are about missing cats and lost homework and how the world just might end if I don't listen to them completely RIGHT NOW!) 


  1. Thanks for all of this info. I'm in the beginning phase of re-organizing all of my genealogy files and I'm finding lots of useful information on your page.

  2. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  3. Welcome to the world of Geneabloggers! I have enjoyed reading your posts, especially as I have just embarked on a good organising session of 20 odd years of genealogical papers.

  4. I like your note regarding spelling and the grammatical ... I get on a role typing something to post (especially when leaving comments) when my brain is flowing but my fingers don't 'quite' follow. Then I post & oops - there it is - quite obvious now that it is published. :-)


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