Along Those Lines: 12 Genealogical Resolutions

By George G. Morgan
Ancestry Daily News, 31 December 1999

Here it is, the threshold of the year 2000 and I suddenly have a sense of panic over the things I haven't gotten done in my family history research. My, how the millennium has flown! Like every other year's end, this is a time of finales and a time of new beginnings. While I disagree and say that the next millennium won't begin until 1 January 2001, there still is a significance to moving from the "nineteen hundreds" to whatever we'll call the "two thousands."

In this week's "Along Those Lines . . ." column, I want to offer twelve suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Please feel free to borrow them for yourself or pass them on to friends. However, let me suggest that you select at least one--perhaps more if you can--and make next year the year you really improve on your genealogical or family history research skills. That said, let's cut to the list.


1) INTERVIEW YOUR RELATIVES--One thing many of us postpone until it is too late is interviewing our relatives. Parents and grandparents are obvious candidates for obtaining information about your own branch of the family. However, you have to extend your view to the "big picture" of your family if you are to achieve the greatest research success. That means making time to talk with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. The stories and perspectives you will find will complement the information you may already have, and you will extend the foundation on which you build your future hypotheses and conduct your future research.

2) LABEL AND ORGANIZE YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHS--You know how difficult and frustrating it can be to deal with old family photographs when they are unlabeled. As hard as you work on old photographs, think about the family photographic treasures you have created. Are the vacation pictures organized and labeled? Are school pictures labeled? Have wedding photographs been labeled with the names of all the subjects? Yes, that means the names of the guests appearing in the photographs! You do a disservice to future generations if you devote yourself to identifying and labeling old pictures and neglect your own. In fact, doesn't this just create the same problem for your descendants?

3) USE CORRECT MAPS FOR THE TIME PERIOD YOU ARE RESEARCHING--Make a commitment to yourself to make absolutely certain you use the right maps when doing your family history research. For instance, don't use a contemporary AAA map of South Carolina to determine what county courthouse to contact to locate a copy of your great-great-grandparents' marriage certificate. Pickens, South Carolina, wasn't always in Pickens County, after all. You'll save yourself lots of frustration and wasted time if you use the right geopolitical map for the time period in question.

4) JOIN A GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY--Join a society in at least one area in which you are researching a primary family line. Societies perform all sorts of research functions. They preserve historical and genealogical documents, record cemetery inscriptions, publish journals and share information they have acquired and amassed. Join one and you will learn a great deal about the area, and you will probably make valuable contacts to help further your research.

5) READ ONE BOOK--Invest the time next year in reading at least one book about the history of an area where you are researching one primary line of your family. By learning more about local history and events, you will gain a better understanding of your ancestors' places in history. You may also be able to form better conclusions for why they settled in one place or moved to another.

6) ESTABLISH A FILING SYSTEM AND USE IT--If you've been postponing setting up a filing system for all the stacks of documents, photocopies, pedigree charts, abstracts, and cemetery photographs, why not make a commitment to organize them? Remember, the system you devise and begin using today can be reorganized later if your needs change. The project only gets worse the longer you procrastinate, so why not start it today?

7) LEARN ABOUT ONE NEW RECORD TYPE--There are a number of record types that many genealogists never touch. For instance, many people are intimidated by land and property records and tax rolls. Yet these are among the most numerous and most revealing of all public records, providing an ongoing view and confirmation of where our ancestors were between censuses. During the next year, resolve to read up on and educate yourself on at least one new type of record you have never used before. Then get busy and research at least one ancestor using that new record type.

8) INPUT YOUR SOURCES TO YOUR DATABASE--It's easy to input vital statistics and other data into the computer database, isn't it? But the source information can seem to be drudgery to many of us. However, the source is every bit as important as the data that you're entering. Why? Because it is an indication of the real quality of the content being input. Most of us are guilty of this omission, and the coming year is the time to commit to going back through what you have entered into the database and entering source information. During the process, you will also be reassessing the information you have acquired. There may be some revelations that point your research in new directions too!

9) ORDER ONE SET OF MILITARY RECORDS--If you have U.S. ancestors who served in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II and/or other conflicts, you should try to learn more about them through their military records. Both military service records and pension application records can be vividly enlightening insights into an ancestor's life story. Depending on the service and the era, there may be records at the National Archives, at state archives, and at other government locations. Start by researching the era, then determine where the records might be held, and write letters. Once you have seen and worked with these records, you will be hooked on learning more about every ancestor's service records.

10) VOLUNTEER TO HELP A NOVICE FAMILY HISTORIAN--Consider how difficult it was for you to learn research methodology and proper documentation techniques. Then think how much you would have appreciated some expert help and guidance. You can help a novice learn the ropes. Some libraries welcome volunteers to serve in this capacity in their genealogy collection areas, or you might make a new acquaintance and simply "adopt the newbie." Either way, you will be helping a new researcher learn the right skills and make more effective progress.

11) SHARE YOUR INFORMATION WITH YOUR FAMILY--Make the time to share information you have found with other family members. You may find relatives who share an intense interest in your common ancestors and who also have information and materials they would be willing to share. More importantly, share information with children. Hearing the family stories and sharing in the traditions can give them a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, and a perspective of their place in history like no other experience.

12) EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE TO YOUR LIBRARIANS AND ARCHIVISTS--Libraries are key resources in family history research. While there are many men and women who work there who understand the research you have undertaken, many may not have the in-depth knowledge of genealogical resources and techniques that you, as a veteran researcher, may have. However, they are your "information brokers" to help you locate and access information. They are trained to understand what print resources they have in-house, where to look for other materials in their library system, and how to help you locate materials in databases and on the Internet. They really can't do your research for you, but they are there to help. Resolve in the coming year to make the time to express your gratitude to every librarian and archivist for the help they provide. Remembering them with a plate of cookies goes a long way too!


As you can see, resolutions can take many forms. I offer these twelve as suggestions, and I know you may come up with others. You may have some that may be more appropriate for you, the specific types of research you do and the geographies you are researching. The key, however, is to make changes and improvements in how and what you research. You should constantly strive toward conducting scholarly research. This means organizing your approach to family history studies at all levels, seeking excellent sources, scouring for quality content, and using precise documentation formats and standards. Genealogy is a scientific methodology as well as an enjoyable activity. Resolve to enjoy it, share the fun with others, and do the very best job you can.

I, too, am making changes as the new year dawns. This "Along Those Lines . . ." column is my last here in the Genealogy Forum on America Online. Effective 1 January 2000, the column moves exclusively to the Web site at Many of you already know that my column has also appeared there over the past two years, but I have simply made that venue the new, exclusive home. The Genealogy Forum on America Online is a wonderful place, full of friends who have become part of my family. It is also the home of exciting content and regularly scheduled online genealogy chats on a tremendous range of subjects. Even though the column is moving to, I will continue to be a member of the Genealogy Forum team. I hope you will continue to look for the "Along Those Lines . . ." column at it's exclusive new home at beginning next week.

In the meantime, let me wish you a Happy New Year and . . .

Happy hunting!

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller