Welcome guest blogger, Jo Blackford.
This summer I’ve been working to organize my grandmother’s family tree research into a format that is easy to search, refer to, and share. I shared my initial plans to figure out how to do that in an earlier post. Here is the culmination of my project:
I started by reading genealogy software reviews online and learned that most (if not all) of them use a standardized file format for imports and exports, which means that you aren’t committing to a whole system when you choose which program to use. Thank goodness for that! Family Tree Maker (FTM) and Ancestry.com seemed to have a good system that works on both Macs and PCs, so I was leaning in that direction.
I took a trip to the Sylvan Way library to see what help the Genealogy Center might be able to offer. The ladies there were very generous with their time, talking to me about programs and sites they use, even showing me their own family trees on both Ancestry and within the FTM software so I could get a feel for how they worked and looked. I used one of the library computers to play around and see if I could find a way to start a tree online, but it turns out that that part of Ancestry is separate from the free database access that the library provides, and I would need to set up an account first before I could build a tree. At that point I decided that the software might be a better choice for me.
For a couple of weeks I went back into procrastination mode, debating between buying the software and building a tree online. Luckily one of my summer reads, The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau, was all about pursuing a quest, and I realized that genealogy could be my quest. It has achievable milestones along the way but is also never-ending, and it feeds into all of my interests. That got me motivated to get started right away, so I sat down and created my Ancestry.com online account.
Just in case you are thinking you’d like to follow along with me, I’ll give you a tip I discovered quite by accident. There are two parts to signing up for Ancestry – the account creation and the free trail/paid subscription. You can actually sign up for an account without buying a subscription or starting your free trial, no credit card information required. Just navigate to another page after you set up your password when they ask for your money. As a “registered guest” you can build a family tree online and see hints, but you can’t see the documents and sources unless you subscribe. A subscription allows you to search and view documents and databases, but so does the Ancestry Library Edition, for free (as long as you are on a library computer or on your laptop connecting to the library’s wifi network). Huzzah!
In the past couple of weeks I have added more than 300 relatives’ basic information to my tree, piecing together the family tree charts my nana left with my own notes from family discussions, captions from photos, guesses and memories, with a little help from my parents. Ancestry gave me hints for at least half of my relatives, sometimes adding middle names, sometimes places of residence, or important dates. You can email documents to yourself to add to your discoveries from within the library’s version of Ancestry, although you can’t actually access your own family tree through the database itself.
The first day I found myself sitting at one of the library’s PCs with my MacBook balanced on my lap, switching between screens trying to put everything together. (Ancestry wasn’t playing nice with my Chrome browser that day). The next time I switched to Safari and logged in through the Library Edition in one tab, and into my own account on another tab, downloading documents directly to my computer. For a beginning genealogist that set-up works perfectly. Library Associate (and genealogy student) Elisabeth also showed me some other sites to check as I move along in my investigations – Family Search and Find My Past.
Some of my favorite discoveries so far:
– A record of the memorial or grave at El Alamein in the Western Desert, Egypt for my great uncle Victor, who was gunned down during WWII at the age of 21. My family didn’t know that he was memorialized there.
– A 1910 photo of my 4th great uncle, with all of his family around him, complete with a caption identifying most of the people in the photo, shared by a distant relative of his.
– The wedding date for my great nana, whose wedding portrait I have on my wall. It seems she was already a few months along with her son on the day of her wedding – perhaps explaining her loose dress and the giant bouquet in front of her belly.
– Records of 3rd great grandmothers, who had more babies than I can imagine. One had 14 births in 21 years, her last baby at age 47, and died in her 50s. But another had at least 9 children, and somehow still managed to live to the age of 95!
– An arrest warrant for a relative I had always heard was extremely moral and upstanding. I have no idea whether it was true or whether he was caught, but the warrant had wonderful details about his appearance and even his manner of dress.
I love these little stories and all the questions they beg. I can see why people get hooked on this hobby.
This post is part of our Summer Learning Inspiration series. Folks in our community have agreed to share inspiration and talk about some of the amazing things that they’ve been #LibraryInspired to learn!