1. Document the Ancestors You Knew
Too often genealogists focus on generations long dead. While it can be exhilarating to find information about your Civil War soldier or your 17th century forefather, it's equally important to document the ancestors that are of a much recent origin. Sometimes in our excitement to trace our family back we forget about documenting our parents and grandparents and their families.
Take some time this year to go through your genealogy database and take note of what documents you are missing on those more recent family members. Do you have your parent's marriage certificate, what about your maternal grandmother's birth certificate? Dad's military records? Think about the historical eras that your parents and grandparents lived in and consider what social history you could add to your documentation that helps tell the story of their lives.
In genealogy, start with yourself and then work your way backwards. Yes, it's not as exciting to "trace" your parents, but by documenting your more recent family you are also leaving information behind for the future generations of genealogists who will take up your work.
2. Document Your Heirlooms
The family genealogist tends to acquire stuff, whether it's paper documents or heirlooms that are entrusted to the one person who will care for them. But what happens to those heirlooms if you are no longer around? Will your family know the significance of the item, where it's from or its value to the family? Now's the time to do an inventory of your family heirlooms and create a book or digital file of information about the heirlooms of which you and other family members have possession. These finished books can be distributed to family members as a way of sharing your family history, as well as being used for insurance purposes.
You can create your own form for family heirlooms, documenting who owns the item now, name of the original owner, a description of the item (measurements, condition), and any stories behind the item and the significance to your family.
There are also forms available from Family Tree Magazine's Oral History and Heirlooms page
3. Take a Genealogical Audit
As a new researcher, we tend to early on catch the excitement of finding our ancestors on subscription websites, obtaining vital records and talking to family members. But sometimes we haven't been as thorough as we should be. This can be a reason to take a genealogical audit. An audit is defined as "an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project of product." (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audit).
A genealogical audit could look different depending on the years you have been researching and what your research project looks like. Some ideas for conducting your own genealogy audit include:
• Going through your genealogy database and checking that all of your facts are sourced.
• Looking through your paper files and making sure each document has a source citation.
• Analyzing each person to make sure you have found the facts and documents you need.
• Conducting new searches on Ancestry.com to see if there are new resource for each person.
• Scan documents and save to your genealogy software program.
• Backup all your genealogy files and images.
Whatever you decide to do, take some time to review the genealogy you have now, that it is sourced, that it is protected and that you have conducted a reasonably exhaustive search.
4. Identify your Photos
It's the bane of most genealogist's existence. They finally get a stack of family photos only to discover that none of them are labeled. And of course no one in the family knows who those ancient relatives are.
Now, take a look at your present-day family photos. Are they labeled? If yes that's great. But if not, now is the time to start labeling them. Make it easier for your descendants to know who are family members and who are simply friends or neighbors.
There are some do's and don'ts of labeling photographs. In making them easier for your descendants to identify you don't want to cause damage. Make sure never to label photographs with a ball point pen. Use a photo pencil that is made for writing on the back of photographers. Also, never use anything on a photograph that will cause damage or that can be undone including adhesives, metals, laminates or markers.
You may also want to scan your photos and either upload them to a photo sharing website like Flickr or Photo Bucket or even a backup website like Dropbox. You should also consider copying them to a DVD or flash drive to send to family members. The more people in possession of photos, the more likely they are of being handed down through the generations.
5. Write Your Life Story
I think many of us wish that our ancestors left behind diaries or journals that would help us better understand their lives. While some are fortunate to gain such an inheritance, most of us are not. I imagine our ancestors didn't leave these items behind for various reasons aside from illiteracy. Those who could have written a journal may have wondered why anyone would care about reading about their lives.
Sound familiar? Are you writing in a diary or journal? A diary or journal can be whatever you want it to be. Not interested in writing on a daily basis? That's okay, what about a monthly round- up of what happened or a yearly remembrance.
However you do it, journals can be a great way to keep genealogical details of your own life, the lives of those around you and the lives of those you are researching.
For those who do not like taking pen to paper, you may choose to keep a journal or start a personal history on your computer. This can be done by using you word processing program or by purchasing and using a special program meant for journal and personal history writing. Roots Magic sells the software, Personal Historian, that can be used to write histories of your ancestors as well as your personal history and can even be used as a diary. It works with your genealogical database to import names and dates, which can be helpful if you decide to use the program to write personal histories about your ancestors. It also helps you organize your ideas, which can later lead to writing a longer narrative. You don't have to invest in Personal Historian to see if it would work for you. Roots Magic provides a free download at their website so you can try the software before you buy it.
About.com has some links to websites that includes ideas for journaling and personal history writing. One of the links takes you to an article in the Ancestry.com Library. The Family History Compass, outlines 10 ideas for recording your personal history. One of the ideas is to interview yourself just as you would a family member. I think many of us assume everyone knows what we know but if we set up our personal history writing as an interview it will provide more detailed information that our descendants will appreciate it.