I have been an educator in the genealogy field for more than thirty years. Although I teach intermediate and advanced classes, some of my fondest memories have come in the classes I teach for those that are just getting their feet wet.
And, I'm not going to tell them.
I give them weekly assignments to get them started. They are given a couple of pedigree charts and six family group sheets with the following challenge for the coming week:
- Fill out the pedigree chart as completely as you can.
- Always capitalize the last name!
- When recording the place of an event, always include the county. Always. not everyone was born in a town, but everyone was born in a county.
- Begin recording the date in a standard genealogy format; 27 Nov 2012. This can really help to avoid confusion if using just numbers.
- When recording the grandmothers, use the maiden name. Always.
- For the family group records, fill them out as follows:
- For #1, your family as it appears now.
- For #2, your family showing you as a child, with all siblings living or deceased, who they married.
- For #3, your mother's family, showing her as a child with her siblings and who they married.
- For #4, your father's family, showing him as a child with his siblings and who they married.
I encourage them to contact every living relative for family stories, obituaries and funeral cards, etc.
And, I also encourage them to write down where the information came from and who possesses the obituary, family bible, birth certificate, discharge paper.
I do not tell them that those sources must be written in a certain format. That's for later on. However, emphasis is given that someday when they're gone, their work will have more credibility if they can show where the information came from.
As they cross the stepping stones into published family histories and family trees on the internet, don't assume they are either right or wrong without looking first to see if their sources were documented. If they aren't, that doesn't mean they are to be discarded; just use that information as a springboard to take you to the original sources and find out for yourself. Then, you document it!
Some people may do nothing more than just the above minimum homework of a pedigree chart and some family group sheets. And, that's fine.
Some may go forward with gusto and pursue a lifelong love of their family's history. And, that's fine.
The last thing I want to do it completely overwhelm them at first. I want them to feel this is something they can do. And, if all they do is simply write that the information came from an obituary in a shoebox in the top of their aunt's closet, that's fine with me.
We were all beginners once, and we are again; each time we begin a new family line or discover a new maiden name, we are beginning our research again! Hopefully, those that are seasoned are a bit more thorough than when we first started out.
I want each student to feel this is something they can do. The refinement can come along the way.