Will Your Family Preserve Your Genealogy Legacy?

Paul Brooks, co-found of Twile, provides a guest post at GeneaBloggers stressing the importance of working with family to preserve your genealogy legacy.

[Editor’s Note: In this guest post, Paul Brooks, a co-founder of Twile – an amazing new site that helps you create a family history timeline with photos and milestones – offers his tips on involving family members to help preserve your genealogy legacy.]

How can you make sure that your genealogy research is preserved and continued by future generations? The solution might be to get your wider family involved now, rather than simply making sure it’s passed down to them after you’re gone.

Surprising Genealogy Survey Results

A few months ago, Twile carried out a survey of 200 people who actively research their family history. We were interested in finding out why they were doing it and what they were planning to do with their findings when the work was ‘finished’.

Most said they had started their research looking for an answer to a specific question (e.g. who was my grandfather, where did my ancestors originate from) or it was triggered by an event (typically the death of a loved one).

What we found most interesting was that very few had given any consideration to what would happen to their research when they were no longer around.

I recently read After You’re Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research by Thomas MacEntee, which outlines a set of actions you can take now to ensure your family will inherit, understand and know what to do with your research. It’s a good book and serves as a useful checklist of things to consider, but there is an assumption that the genealogist is working in isolation, with nobody else in the family involved – and our research indicates this is often the case. Almost 75% of the family historians we surveyed received little or no contributions from the rest of their family and less than half shared their findings regularly. Many of them seemed to view it as a one-person hobby or didn’t feel that anyone else in the family was interested.

When pushed, most of our respondents said they would pass their findings down to their children, though few gave any indication of how they would do that. Perhaps the best way of ensuring your research will survive is to ensure it is continued – making sure that others in your family are actively contributing and sharing alongside you now, so they’re likely to keep it up after you’re gone?

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s widely known that genealogy is typically a hobby for the older generations (though it is growing in popularity among younger Millennials) and a lot of findings are difficult for the wider family to consume (cryptic documents, citations, black-and-white photos of people they don’t recognize). You can probably secure their attention for a short while by talking them through the family tree, but how do you get them actively involved in recording your family history? Here are a few of my suggestions:

Find Your Allies

Working on the assumption that each family has a family historian, there should be one in each of the individual families that make up your extended family – if your children or your siblings are married, does anyone in their partners’ families share your hobby? You may find they’re exploring the same family lines you are. And you may find they’re as keen as you to get the rest of the family involved.

Ask Them

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If most genealogists are 55 or older, then a percentage of under-55s in your family are going to become genealogists one day. You could probably get some of them interested now just by asking them. Ask if they’d be interested in looking through your research and then see if they’d like to learn how it’s done – you may find yourself with an apprentice!

Share

You’ll probably find that most people in your family don’t actually know that genealogy is your hobby. Could you share your online tree with them by email or produce a paper copy that could be duplicated and shared out? Tell them your most interesting findings. If there are any budding genealogists in your family, make sure they know you’re the person to talk to.

Win Over the Young

If you can spark an interest in the younger generations now, there’s a chance it will evolve into a hobby – or at least an appreciation of those who came before. But you aren’t going to win over a 10-year-old with watertight citations or stories of surprising relationships – you’ll need to bring out the stories of war, executions, crazy careers and exotic foreign lands. If you can link your grandchildren to the Vikings or African tribes, you’re onto a winner. Make it a tradition to tell them a new story about their family history each time you see them.

Join Old With New

New family history is created every day. Every birth, wedding, first day of school, graduation, driving test, retirement and family barbecue adds something to your family’s story. If you can get your family to record their more recent events alongside your historical ones, you will have a living, breathing and ever-growing record of your family life – which is more likely to survive after you and is much easier for your family to consume and relate to.

We created Twile for this purpose and I use it to maintain a single timeline of my family’s past, present and future. I have three generations of my family regularly exploring and contributing to the timeline and I’m very confident that my children will add to it as they grow older.

I’ve found family historians to be incredibly passionate about their hobby, partly because they enjoy the research and partly because they have a genuine desire to preserve the memories of their ancestors. I think it’s a sad loss when the work they’ve done is not passed on effectively to their descendants and I hope that more can be preserved by getting the wider family interested and involved.

©2015, copyright Paul Brooks. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Paul Brooks is co-founder of Twile, an online genealogy tool aiming to make family history more exciting and engaging for the wider family, especially the younger generation.

Genealogy Do-Over – Week 3, Cycle 3: 17-23 July 2015

National Archives UK researcher

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Previous topics in the Genealogy Do-Over:

[Editor’s note: Much of the text below is unchanged from the original Week 3 posting on January 16, 2015 except for my personal updates.]

Topics: 1) Tracking Research and 2) Conducting Research

With the third week of the Genealogy Do-Over, this is where, as genealogists, we “come home” to our favorite place: research. We get to actually take the information from our self interviews and family group sheets and use it to find evidence to prove or disprove relationships and what I call “data points.”

Do you remember returning home for the first time after a long absence, such as your first semester of college or on your first military leave? Things changed, didn’t they? Maybe your mother converted your room in to a sewing room or your father claimed it as his den or “man cave?” I hate to tell you this . . . but with the Genealogy Do-Over, coming back to research will never be the same. Now you’ll be asked to set up a To Do List (your research goals), track your research, and more. There will be data to enter, items to transcribe and eventually, thinking and analysis required!

This is how genealogy success is made. Most of you are part of the Genealogy Do-Over to change old research habits and to improve skills. What was is gone; long live the new research methods. And long live success.

Besides, haven’t you heard that you can never go home again?

* * *

Tracking Research

One of the main issues I’ve had with my OLD genealogy research method: I would not track data when I found it. I would simply enter it in my database, perhaps mark it as UNSOURCED and then tell myself I’d clean it up later.

NO MORE! With the Genealogy Do-Over, the goal is to track your goals, what you want to prove and then – after collecting as much related evidence as possible – evaluate that evidence and prove a fact. Once proven, then it is entered into a genealogy database software program or an online tree. Solid information with solid source citations make for solid trees that don’t fall over.

Genealogy Research Log

I have a genealogy research log that I use and that I recommend. It is an multi-sheet Excel file that can be imported into Google Drive as well as Numbers for Mac users. Past participants in the Genealogy Do-Over have stated that the file converts cleanly in many programs, even Open Office.

Some genealogists have asked if I could create a similar research log in another program such as Microsoft Word since some people find spreadsheets difficult to use. Due to the nature of tracking information and the need for a very wide table, Word just doesn’t lend itself to a good genealogy research log format. Another option is to place all the fields in a “fillable form;” however, you would then have to create a new document for each record located. And then, how can you quickly see what you’ve found? Open and close a series of documents?

What you decide to use for a genealogy research log is up to you. If you’ve been opposed to using spreadsheets in the past, I just ask you to give the research log above a try.

  • What I Plan to Do: For Cycle 3, I am continuing my research on my grandparents and great-grandparents, tracking To Do items, searches and results.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: Review the research log above including all the worksheet tabs. Decide if you want to use this research log format or create your own. If using your own, include the fields you think are most important to track when doing genealogy research.
  • Modified Participant Options: If you have never used a research log before, consider using the format above or creating your own. Another option is to see if your preferred genealogy database software has a way of tracking research; some have a To Do List option, others have something similar to a Research Log.

Conducting Research

Once you have your research goals and a way to track them, then you’re ready to research. This means both offline research at archives, libraries and repositories as well as online using various free and fee-based resources.

  • What I Plan to Do: I am continuing to track down documents and evidence for each proof point on my To Do List. Right now the focus is on gathering the information, making sure I can remember where it came from and working on source citations and evidence evaluation at a later time.
  • All-In Participant Options: Using whatever tracking form you’ve selected, make sure you enter your research goals. Then start your research (with yourself and your birth date, birth location, etc.) and for each record found, make sure each one is entered and tracked. Copy a link to the record if it is online – you will want an easy way of returning to the record without having to do a search again. Make sure you extract as much information as possible from the record.
  • Modified Participant Options: With your current research, start with yourself. Check to see that all information is accurate, based on your self interview, and make sure each point of data can be tied to at least one record. If something is missing a corresponding record – like a birth location – then mark it as “unsourced” and add it to your To Do List for further research.

* * *

I’ve also added the Genealogy Research Log file over at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook group. Early next week, I’ll post about my progress and share my actual research log for you to see how I set up research goals and track my research.

Next Week: Week 4, Cycle 3 – 24-30 July 2015

  • Managing Projects and Tasks
  • Tracking Searches

Thanks for being a part of the Genealogy Do-Over and your feedback is always appreciated. You can email me at geneabloggers@gmail.com or post at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

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©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.