Five Tips for Specific Genealogy Research
Since I am writing my family history through several generations and locations, I have to research a variety of time periods and places. Regardless of what generation I’m researching or where they lived, these five tips always help me find what I need.
1. Whenever possible, visit the physical location. I know I’m not the only genealogist who plans vacations around research. There’s no substitute for actually standing on the ground your ancestors walked, seeing the physical environment (changed as it may be from the historical time you’re studying), and simply breathing in the atmosphere. Visiting the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, part of which had been my ancestor Adam Mitchell’s farm before the battle spread into his cornfields, made a huge impact on me. Visiting your ancestors’ homeland may be difficult if they came from another country, but traveling to the place where your roots are will be an experience you’ll never forget.
And when you’re there, make contact with the local residents. Often people in the community know a lot about the history and the original families of the area. When I was researching in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I needed a haircut and went to the local barber shop. The folks in the barber shop gave me lots of great information! Ladies’ beauty salons and coffee shops or cafes where the locals hang out are other great places to make contacts and find out what’s going on the neighborhood.
2. Always be willing to share information first. Often I’ve learned something I’ve been searching for from someone who first asked me a question. Since Spring House, the first book in my fictionalized (but historically and genealogically accurate) family history, has been published, a number of people have contacted me with questions. Some have been about shared ancestors; others have been about the time period or the location of the book. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, and often I end up learning more from the person who asked me a question than they learned from me. The more you give, the more you receive.
3. Join local genealogical societies. If you’ve been reading this blog any time at all, you know I’m a big fan of these organizations. My family story began in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. The Guilford County Genealogical Society proved to be a huge help to my research there. Then after the Revolution, my family moved to Tennessee. I’m currently writing about the family’s time in Tennessee in Adam’s Daughters: Book 2 in the Westward Sagas. During one of my research trips, I attended a joint meeting of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society and the Washington County Genealogical Society. Not only did I have access to lots of valuable research, but these folks were gracious and helpful. They introduced me to the local artist who is painting the original art that will be the cover of the book, and the society is a strong supporter of my writing and publishing the book. The third book will take place in Texas, where my family moved when they left Tennessee. I’ve already started research on that book and have found lots of great information in the library of the San Antonio Genealogical Society.
Most genealogical societies have dues of about $25/year. Not only can you research in their libraries, you also get a monthly or quarterly journal. One of the most valuable benefits is being able to query: ask for information about a specific person, place, event, etc. Other members who have found that information will share with you, just as you share with others. Genealogical societies have limited budgets and are manned completely by volunteers, so you can’t expect them to do your research for you. But you’ll gain access to research material and tools — and perhaps most importantly — other people who are interested in the same areas of research that you are.
4. Take advantage of hereditary organizations. You probably also know how much I appreciate these groups, as I have talked about them in previous posts. The San Antonio Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution has been an incredible resource for me since I first began my genealogical research.
5. Use historical and genealogical libraries and museums in the area of your research. Librarians, genealogists, historians, and curators are often passionate about a region, time period, or historical event. They will usually bend over backwards to help a researcher as enthusiastic as they are about the subject. For my research in Tennessee, I visited the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection of the Knox County Public Library. I’ll share more about these incredible resources in my next post.
Whatever time period, location, or family you are researching, these tips should help lead you to what you need. I’ve shared specific experiences following this advice in these previous posts:
Art, Books, and History
Praise for Hereditary Organizations
Attending the Church of My Ancestors
A Real Spring House
Visiting in Mississippi
The Story of a Pioneer Woman
On the Road: The Natchez Trace, Friendly People, and a Touching Meeting
Getting to Know People and Stories