Most family history researchers would sell their soul to be given an opportunity to go back in time and live a day in the life of one of their ancestors. To experience a world that is long gone and to bring back to life those family members that you have conjured up a visual picture of in your mind. If only that was possible.
How would you spend the day?....Would you just sit back and enjoy the experience or would you interrogate the living daylights out of them to find out what the hell happen to old uncle Bill.
Sorry to say but this will never happen. For most of us the best we can do is an old photograph, a birth, a marriage and a death with a few interesting stories in the middle. What an injustice to a long fruitful exciting life.
It has now been over 20 years since I started researching my first family tree. Back in the 1980's most of my spare time was dedicated to visiting local libraries and sifting through endless files of paper records, viewing microfische and microfilm until my eyes bled.
Fast forward 20 years later and with the help of modern technology those searches that kept me out of the pubs and off the streets now take only a fraction of the time.
So where do you start your journey I hear you say ?
I suppose to answer that question you need to ask what is it that gave you the idea in the first place. You may have had a recent death in the family or perhaps you have just attended a special occaision with close relatives. What ever it was your thought process has now been activated.
A good place to start is to compile a list of all known facts starting with your immediate family. Be as comprehensive as possible and record full names, dates of birth, places of birth, marriages, and divorces. It is a good idea to write a short story on each individual and grab a favourite photo.
Congratulations you have now planted the seeds, its now time to put on your Sherlock Holmes cap and venture out into the world of genealogy and grow your family tree.
Next stop on your list I suggest would be relatives. This can be a rather daunting experience if you havent remained in contact with them over the years. A phone call out of the blue can automatically raise suspicions....do they need to borrow money?...are they coming to live with me?...or has someone recently died? Put them at ease straight up and tell them that you have an interest in tracing the family tree. Most relatives will be thrilled that you are undertaking such a task however be prepared for the very few that oppose the idea fearing what skeletons will be let out of the cupboard.
I have found that the most valuable information was gained over a cup of tea with my grandparents. Its a fact of life that we are not on this planet forever and now sadly that all my grandparents have passed on, their memory, assistance and detailed recollection of my ancestors were priceless.
Keep an eye out for family reunions. Reunions are a very quick and low cost way to gather material for your family tree research.
There is no need to run around conducting in depth interviews at a reunion, a few comments about what you are planning mentioned to the right people will have the relatives tracking you down to tell there side of the story. And dont be scared to have a chat to old uncle Arthur....the black sheep of the family, as he may be the one that has the most insteresting stories to tell you.
You are now well on your way...you have caught the genealogy bug....but dont worry its not life threatening.
It is extremely important to be organised and very thorough with regards to recording this new found information. It is a huge responsibily that you have undertaken as you are preserving historical records for generations to come. You will soon find that a genealogy programme is a valuable tool to record all these important details. They are readily available for purchase in most department stores or you may even find a free version on the web.
Be sure to make a note of who provided each particular piece to your puzzle, you will soon discover that after gathering hundreds of stories, records and photos you wont know whether you got them from Arthur or Martha.
You are now the family detective.
Your family tree is now firmly rooted and the trunk is sprouting and a visit to the Family History department at your local library will help to grow the branches. Free expert guidance from their historians will provide you with the tools to nurture a healthy tree. They will intoduce you to online searching, cemetery indexes, newspaper archives and many more valuable historical records, and how to find them.
At times you will be frustrated and then there will be moments when you feel the excitement of finally locating that missing link to the puzzle. You will also find Family History Research very addictive but at the same time very enjoyable and extremely rewarding.
Good luck, cheers and happy hunting