The first order of business for the new year is to contact any elderly relatives who may or may have been questioned in the past regarding family history and memories. Elderly people usually enjoy talking about their lives and experiences. Listening to these relatives may lead to an unexpected genealogical discovery. Often, little snippets of information that may not have been included in the first conversation will be included in a current conversation. The names of aunts, uncles and cousins became more important as research expands to new generations. Knowing the occupations, trades and locations of family members will lead to research clues. What may not have seemed to be important in an earlier conversation may now take on greater importance as more information is found.
A personal experience illustrates the importance of continuing to maintain contact with elderly relatives. My grandmother had written down everything she remembered about the family tree. In the last year of her life, she made a statement to a cousin that her father, Jackson Kilgore, met her mother, Mary Elizabeth Smallwood, in Mitchell County while working for Mary's father, John R. Smallwood, as a worker on his traveling sawmill. She had never once mentioned Mitchell County before that day. By taking that clue and researching the census in Mitchell and the surrounding counties, I found Jackson Kilgore's family back two generations. A chance remark led to a genealogical breakthrough.
Another resolution for the new year is to ask elderly family members--and even not so elderly members, to write down their memories. Give them some guidelines. Suggest naming schools, towns, streets, stores and churches. My Grandmother Seem wrote of her life growing up in Ishpeming, Michigan, in longhand in a composition notebook. The information in her memoir led me back to her mother's home in Norway. She had made the statement in the memoir that she had received a letter from an aunt in Trondheim, Norway, who had attended a baptism. After corresponding with the church officials, I obtained family church records stretching back three generations. Any written remembrance has the potential not only to be a priceless family heirloom, but to yield genealogical clues.
An important resolution that will also be a great organizational tool is to evaluate and inventory each family line for missing material. Decide or pretend to decide to join a lineage society. Is the necessary proof available?
In order to evaluate the lines, take each generation and mark off the information that has been found. Birth and death records are only available for the last two or three generations, but marriage records have been recorded for centuries. If you do not have marriage records, check the local library for resources. Go on the internet to sites such as roots.web.com, usgenweb.com, ancestry.com, or lds.org. These sites access thousands of marriage records. Write to the county courthouses, if you know the location of the marriage. Be sure to include a check to cover the fee and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
If you cannot find a marriage, a census record will usually serve as a substitution for a lineage society. In any event, it is important to try to obtain all the available census records for each ancestor in each generation. The census records may lead to other avenues. Look above and below the lines of your ancestor's households. Check out the neighbors. It often happens that your ancestor's neighbors represent another family line.
The records mentioned here are the obvious ones needed to prove lineage. Other resources that may be used for proof and to round out the life of your ancestor include wills, probate records, administrator's and guardian bonds, and land deeds. These records may or may not be needed for a lineage society, but they are vital for a complete and accurate portrayal of a family history.
Make a list and try to locate at least one item a month during the coming year. The record may or may not be found. It is important to note all places searched for a record, whether successful or not, so you will not follow the same wrong path again. Keeping track of dead ends will keep you from wasting time in the future.
If these resolutions are kept, you will have a more complete family history by the end of the year. Some information may still be missing, but at least you know where not to look in the upcoming year. By evaluating your material and setting resolutions to complete the information, you can begin to fill in the gaps on your family tree.