Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gathering information for your family tree

I guess I have always been interested in history, and studied modern and ancient history at school.  This fascination  with the “times before me” was transferred to an ever growing interest in my family background and the people who came before me.  To begin with I was attracted by the puzzle of putting everyone in their place, with dates of birth, marriage and death. However, this has now evolved and I find I want to know more about the people,  the events they experienced and the times they lived through.

If you are planning to start putting together your family history you have to be prepared to become  a gather and collector of all different types of memorabilia.  Some items you will have to search high and low for and others will just land in your lap.  When I was first married and my two sons were very small, I started to be serious about researching our family roots.  This was in a time without Internet. All research had to be done in library’s, local museums, cemeteries, archives and more importantly by rummaging in many dusty boxes and suitcases that had been stored under beds or storage rooms. I wrote with great enthusiasm to many relatives telling them of my plan to put together our family history. Many of these letters went unanswered.  However, luckily  there were others in my family that were happy to share stories, old photos and letters and contacts with other family links.

The process of gathering information was much slower than it is today.  All communication was by post or phone and the building of the family tree was a much slower process.    Though I must confess, it was much easier to keep up with.  I don’t know what other family tree researchers feel, but my experience is that now it is impossible to keep up with the flow of information and resources  that are available to us today. (Mind you I wouldn’t want to change this, I love that you can search a name and instantly find when they were born, where they lived etc).

I believe that the things I learnt when I first started researching the family tree (a lot by trial and error) were valuable, and more importantly a lot of the information that I gathered during these early years have opened new family links more recently.  For example, recently I was reading through some notes that I had made when visiting my great Aunt in 1986.  She had mentioned that one of her Aunts had died in a fire.  Using the wonderful resource that we now have for Australian research I did a search on TROVE, and was able to find an article that gave the date of her death and the name of her husband and children.  From this little note that I had made many years ago, I was able to fill in a number of gaps in our family history.

If you are thinking of looking into your family tree here is a list of  some things that will help you find those important clues that will assist you along the way.

1. Letters - provide a lot of information, e.g. date, residence, family events, occupations  and general family history.
2. Diaries – if you are able to find an old diary or log book of an ancestor this is a wonderful bonus. They can provide so much information about the life and times of that family member.
3. Postcards, birthday or Christmas cards- can provide residential address, names of other members of the family and information on what they were doing at that time of history. 
4.  Old receipts -  provide names, dates and add to the story of the person.
5. Memorial Cards - these generally will give you birth and death date and sometimes family members.
6. Photos – look on the back for any notes that may give you clues
7.  Newspaper cuttings -  even if you are not able to see the link with your family, there must have been a reason they were cut out, so keep them.  Something might come up later that explains the importance of the cutting.
8. Christening certificates, school awards, note books – all add to the information about an individual.
9. Stories - write down or record stories from family members.  Don’t put this off.  There are so many of my older relatives that I wish I had made time to talk to.
10.  Establish links with others researching same family or connections with your family. This can be done through the Internet, online genealogy sites or just writing to family members.
11. Historical societies in towns where ancestors are a great source and may have old newspapers, photos, maps etc.  A lot of Historical Societies have books published on their area which are a mine of information about the times that our ancestors lived in.


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