4 Essentials to Begin Your Family History (and 25 tips)

Of all the lessons I have learned about getting started with family history work, I have been drawn to this one the most: “Let curiosity be your guide.”

I believe it is wise to prepare for things mentally before jumping into them but also feel that following the desires of your heart is what brings the most meaning into our lives. As we set the foundation of doing family history, we can then allow our hearts to be the guide.

Beginning last October, I started researching what it takes to get started with family history. Specifically, I interviewed family history consultants and studied articles which I found in the BYU-Idaho library. From the info I gathered, I put together what I feel makes up four fundamentals to getting started with family history. Here they are:

Using Faith, like that of our Fathers, To Succeed

If you really hope to do family history work successfully, you will likely have to go out on a ledge. Starting a new hobby or project always requires some discomfort, belief and then action. Just as our ancestors showed great faith, we, too, have to take some risks in order to get rooted and begin growing our work into something great.

Here are 8 things you can do to build your faith:

  1. Evaluate where you currently are in your family history. Start where you are and don’t expect yourself to be further than that.
  2. Consider what you’re interested in. What aspects of family history naturally call your name?
  3. Write a list of questions that you have––what are the things you’ve wanted to know and what do you need to overcome mental obstacles?
  4. Consider potential projects you’d like to do. Write these down in some detail.
  5. Read an article, listen to a podcast, or watch YouTube videos.
  6. Get a book to read the experiences of others who love family history.
  7. Attend a family history event like RootsTech.
  8. Try. Try to do a simple family history project and gain all of the experience it requires.

Connecting with the Living

After you have built your faith, it is time to fortify it with help from those around you. Connecting with the living entails finding help and support where it is offered. Be bold enough to talk with family history consultants, friends, and extended family and it will create great resources to quick and clear advice.

Here are 7 ideas on how to Connect with the Living:

  1. Go to a family history library and actively meet all of the willing helpers there. Get contact information from them.
  2. Call your one aunt or grandparent who has been active in family history for many years.
  3. Message your family on Facebook and ask how many of them have any interest in family history
  4. Start a Facebook group where you can ask each other questions and have online family activities and discussions
  5. Carry out group projects together. Attend cemeteries together on Memorial Days and ancestors’ birthdays.
  6. If you’re real brave, do a story time via Facebook live.
  7. Interview your relatives or other people about information and connections they have to particular ancestors. 

Connecting with the Dead

Connecting with the dead entails finding where your DNA comes from––and learning the stories and experiences of the ancestors in those lines.

Here are 5 ways to Connect with the Dead:

  1. Join a family tree platform like FamilySearch.org
  2. Learn to standardize, attach sources, and merge duplicates
  3. Collect and organize your photographs of ancestors or family lines. Digitize these and organize them effectively. Google Photos is my favorite free app.  
  4. Collect journals and have them scanned at a scanning center (there is one located in Pocatello). They do this FOR FREE. I had about 20 journals scanned.
  5. Collect any memorabilia and store them in bins or places to be researched later

Deepening Our Relationships

Deepening relationships is my favorite part. I get many ideas which I like to turn into projects and events. With these, I suggest setting a timeline, connecting with the people and resources you most need, and seeing your plan through.

Here are 8 ways you could deepen your relationships:

  1. Post significant photos, timelines, audios, links to videos, and documents to the Family Tree Memories in FamilySearch and tag those individuals shown or mentioned. Make a project out of it.
  2. Do “Throwback Thursdays” on Instagram or Facebook — this means posting a fun or meaningful historical photo and then sharing what it displays
  3. Create a website where you can organize timelines, videos, and stories
  4. Video or audio record stories about grandparents and share them with your family. Also, have your grandparents and parents tell you about the photos in their photo albums.
  5. Go to lunch with extended family members who engage in your activities
  6. Have a periodic get-together at a home or the library to do research together
  7. Do Facebook Live events
  8. Have online family reunions where people meet on a site at a particular time and discuss stories and events.

Being mentally prepared to get into family history work will help so much to sustain your efforts. And leading your efforts with curiosity will bring the meaning and joy your heart desires.

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