Genealogy has been around for a long time. Its popularity as an American hobby likely began to grow with the establishment of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston in 1845. The American Centennial in 1876 also pushed family history into the news as Americans wanted to tie their own families back to the founding of the United States.
Every so often, the idea is put forth to classify genealogy in the sciences. Today, many professional standards have been set into place by the National Genealogical Society, the Association for Professional Genealogists and other organizations.
Yet, genealogy clearly remains a hobby. I’m not sure that genealogy should ever be classified as a science, but I firmly believe that all genealogists should aim to place themselves on the “gold standard.”
What does that mean? It means that each and every family historian should strive to be the best researcher he or she could possibly be. How does one go about doing that? I’d like to suggest that it really isn’t difficult. Becoming a formally certified genealogist is definitely the professional gold standard, but for those of us who choose not to follow that path, we can also attain the “gold standard” level.
What are some of my suggestions about how to become “gold standard” genealogists?
- Do your own work! This doesn’t mean not to hire professionals when needed. It means to not believe information you find with no sources and to not import others’ trees and merge with your own. Instead, use information you find as clues. If what you find is a primary record created at the time of the event, be sure the record relates to your ancestor and not someone else with the same name. Pedigrees and “facts” found online should always be treated as crumb trails that might possibly lead to your own tree.
- Create and use a research log. In this context, I am using the term to include several activities. Make note both of documents for which you are looking and sources you have checked. If the document is found, be sure to create a citation for where you found it. Keep track of repositories that have already been checked. You shouldn’t have to return to a repository that you’ve already searched unless new clues indicate that there might be more to be found in the same spot. Develop a list of research goals – what information are you wanting to find and how will you go about it?
- Work carefully and revisit ancestors to determine if new records might now be available. Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone can also fix them. Do “reasonably exhaustive searches,” from today’s professional standards guidelines when working on the family tree.
Being a retired teacher, education is one of my hot topics. Everyone should be a lifelong learner and if genealogy is one of your addictions, then your genealogical education should be on-going.
- If you are so inclined and financially able, consider attending events such as SLIG, RootsTech and/or genealogical conferences. However, there are much more wallet-friendly alternatives. Attend local Family History fairs if your neighborhood LDS church sponsors them. Join a local genealogical or historical society. Visit genealogy libraries.
- Watch webinars from the comfort of home. There are many free genealogy webinars available from Legacy, NEHGS, the Illinois State Genealogy Society and others. Register for free and mark your calendar. The topics are wide ranging and appropriate for every level of researcher.
- Read. Read genealogical reference books, magazines and blogs. GeneaBloggers has over 3,000 genealogy blogs on its blog roll listed in ABC order and with a short description of the focus of the blog.
Give Back to the Community
- Share your talents, your successes and your brick walls. Sharing provides an opportunity for feedback and you never know where your next successful find will come from.
- Volunteer. Don’t want or are unable to leave home? Help index records with FamilySearch. The faster records are indexed, the quicker everyone will have easy access to them. Does your local society need some help? Step up and answer the call. I started an interest group in my local welcome club when we moved here because there were no genealogy groups in the area. I’ve been teaching the group now for five years. I hope everyone has learned something from me, but I’ve learned from them, too, even though I’ve been at this for 36 years and most of them joined the group as beginners.
- Join one, two or as many online groups as you want. Facebook alone has thousands of them. This fits under the education category above, but it is also a great way to share your own expertise with less experienced researchers when you are able to answer their questions.
As a final note, technology needs to be addressed. Most genealogists are digital immigrants – we grew up actually having to get off the sofa to change the TV channel – as opposed to digital natives, born after the birth of the internet. Digital immigrants have an entirely separate learning curve, but don’t be afraid to jump in and try out all the newest offerings. You don’t have to purchase everything – many new products and software programs have free trial versions.
Be an educated, informed and generous genealogist and you, too, will be worth your weight in gold.