Now is a great time to set your family history goals for the new year. Cassie Mercer offers a few ideas to help you get back into your research after the silly season.
Want 2019 to be the year you make further headway with your family tree? Here are 10 ways to make it happen. I’m not suggesting you aim for all of these resolutions – keep it realistic and focus on one or two that work for you.
1. Book a trip
There’s nothing like standing in the spot where your ancestors once stood. Perhaps they ran a hotel in Hobart, or fought for their country in France. Wherever they were, make a goal to book that trip you’ve always wanted.
2. Organise a family reunion
Get everyone together for a chance to swap photographs, memories and stories. If could be just immediate family, or it could be with cousins you’ve never met. Book a place to meet that is easy to get to, and ask everyone to bring their memorabilia. Perhaps you could choose to celebrate an anniversary – of when your first ancestor arrived in Australia, or a marriage of your great, great, great grandparents.
3. Have your DNA tested
Millions of people across the globe have chosen to do a DNA test in recent years. It’s a terrific way of discovering more about your heritage, and finding cousins you didn’t know existed. It’s easy with AncestryDNA – you just need a sample of saliva – and your results will be available in 6-8 weeks.
4. Focus on overcoming one brick wall
It can be daunting when there is lots of information missing on your family tree. Just like anything else, break it down into specific areas and set realistic goals. Then choose one thing that you want to discover this year and focus only on that. Perhaps it’s to find a grave of an ancestor, or to uncover the ship on which your ancestor arrived. Targeting one thing will help you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals, which will incentivise you to keep going!
5. Reorganise your files
Scan those old photographs and name them, back up your research, labels your files properly, update software and throw out or shred anything that you no longer need. It’ll help you focus and you’ll feel like spending more time researching when it’s well organised.
6. Interview a family member
We all make promises to ourselves that, one day, we’ll interview family members and record their trip down memory lane. Make 2019 the year you do that. And you don’t need a lot of tech – taking a video on your smartphone will do the trick. There’s loads of free editing software out there if you want to get a bit more creative. Just make sure you save everything and create a back up file as well.
7. Write that book
Perhaps you’ve already recorded your interviews, and want to write the history of your family. Set a daily word goal – promise yourself that you’ll write 500 words a day. Don’t edit yourself – just write. Before you know it you’ll have crafted a chapter, then another one. It doesn’t matter if you never publish it or even show anyone, at least you’ll have written up all that research.
8. Help others with their family history
Update your family tree on Ancestry so that the details are current for other researchers. Or make a promise to visit one local cemetery a month and spend an afternoon uploading photographs of the gravestones to Find A Grave. As someone who is currently researching cemeteries in the UK, I can tell you that taking images of old gravestones and uploading them is something that a lot of genealogists appreciate!
9. Join a historical society
There are more than 1,000 history and family history societies in Australia, so chances are there is one near you. For a small annual fee you’ll have access to a network of researchers, events and advice. Most societies have regular meetings, open days, and usually a fantastic library of local history books. You could even offer your skills to help them with whatever they need – perhaps you’re great at writing eNewsletters, have a background in bookkeeping or can help with organising an event. You’ll make new friends while learning so much about genealogy and local history. For more information, contact the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations or the Federation of Australian Historical Societies.
10. Just start!
Perhaps you’re reading this because you’re completely new to genealogy and you don’t know what to do first? The best advice is to just jump in. Start by listing yourself and any siblings, then your parents, then their parents. Add any information that you know, such as birth, marriage and death dates. Do this as far back as you can without consulting records. Then choose a branch that you want to know more about. Perhaps it’s a grandparent who always intrigued you. Perhaps there’s a family rumour about a bushranger in the family that you’d like to get to the bottom of. Join a site such as Ancestry, visit your local library and get ready to uncover fascinating things about your family that you never knew. It’s truly addictive; you’ll feel like a detective as you sift through records and unearth clues about your ancestors’ lives. It’s when it’s after midnight, you’re still on Ancestry and you tell yourself ‘I’ll just look up one more record’ that you know the genealogy bug has well and truly bitten. Good luck!
Cassie Mercer is an editor based in Sydney. She founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010, creating a following of 60,000+ readers and working with Australia’s key cultural institutions to bring the nation’s history to life across Inside History’s multi-channel platforms. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s, one was a highwayman in Dublin and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.