Let's Get Started

by Christine Sievers

I hope this column will help you to answer that question. Two metaphors come to mind for genealogical research. One is a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were scattered around the room. All the pieces to make the picture of your family tree are there-somewhere. Some are easy to find; you just have to pick them up off the floor. Others are hiding under the table and behind the sofa. They will take more effort to find. You begin to put the puzzle together and find that you still have more pieces missing. The search begins again. These puzzle pieces are your bits and pieces of documents and records, birth certificates and obituaries, census records and land records to name a few.

You have another complication with this puzzle. The picture on the box is partly obsured and you can't see it clearly. It might be that family stories have colored the picture with the wrong shade or slapped a sticker over part of the picture. This part of the puzzle takes some creativity to put together. Be cautious, because if you put the pieces together wrong, they won't fit.

What if when you were crawling around the floor you also picked up some pieces that belonged to a different puzzle? This puzzle had similar shapes and colorings to the one you are working on. Sometimes you make a connection on the internet, or find a document that 'just has to fit into your puzzle', but on closer examination your find it belongs to someone elses family tree.

Then, someone comes into the livingroom with a piece of puzzle that they hand you. You have no idea where it came from. It could have come from the neighbor's house, or have been made up and won't fit into any puzzle. This is like the undocumented information that you pick up from a book or the internet. Know your sources.

The other metaphor that genealogical research brings to mind is a good mystery story. All the clues are there, but you missed them as you read through the first time. Sometimes, you have all the documents you need to solve the mystery for one branch of your family, but it was hiding mysteriously in the document. Read carefully every bit of a document you get. Just like the old detective image, a good magnifying glass sometimes helps. And, if you don't yet have all the clues you need to solve the family mystery, one clue can lead to another. It might give you the lead you need; and tell you where to search next.

Like all detectives, you need to have the right tools. In my coming articles I will give you some of the tools to help uncover the mystery of your family tree. My first article will give you some caveats for starting your research. And, will, hopefully, get you started on the right track. On my wall, I have one of my favorite quotes, by A.A. Milne, spoken by one of his Winnie the Pooh characters, "Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it's not all mixed up." That's a good thing to remember when you start your family tree search.

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