Family History Alphabet: G is for guts, gumption and generosity

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research. This week’s focus is on G and a couple of these attributes I’ve already highlighted in earlier letters.

G is for Guts and Graft:

We flippantly say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” but it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind with family history. As your research reaches one brick wall after the other, or you can’t find a clue (or person) that you’re desperate to locate, you need guts to persevere and keep on going, to look laterally and see what else you can find.

You’ll also need your courage when you encounter your ancestors’ faults, foibles and behaviour that you don’t like or approve of, or that may have got them into trouble. Not forgetting that times change, attitudes change and how they wrote or spoke or acted may no longer be acceptable to our generation. We need the courage to give them acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness.

Research is also pure hard graft at times as we wade through one record set after another, track another “rabbit into its burrow” or unearth some hidden piece of information. Guts plus graft can work wonders in family history as in the rest of life.

G is for Gumption or plain common sense

Why gumption? When you’re stumped by a research question, it can be really helpful to think what records exist today and then translate that to what might have been there in the past and go hunting. It’s not just our generations that have left a paper trail in bureaucracy.

Gumption is also the ability to distil reality from the fascinating but unlikely stories that we inherit; to know that there may be a grain of truth in there and go looking in the records to either prove or disprove the story.

G is for Glory Glow

Well not really, there’s not too much glory in the family history business, but I liked the combination of guts, gumption and glory!

However you will definitely get a warm glow when you help someone crack a problem, given them a photo or some information about their family or write the family stories so the rest of your family members can learn more about their ancestors.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to bring generations of your family “to life” for their descendants who’ve previously known little or nothing about those who came before them. When I published my Kunkel family history it made me so happy when people told me how much they’d learned about these hidden ancestors who’d been a complete unknown to them.

G is for ***GENEROSITY***

Generosity is so important in family history. The kindness of others far away who help us solve a problem. Or the generous sharing of photos of stories about different family members. The generosity of people who share their expertise with us in specialised talks or their hard-earned knowledge about IT or writing etc through their blog posts. The generosity of people who volunteer in family history societies and libraries.  The generosity of someone like Thomas MacEntee who set up Geneabloggers so we can all link up. The generosity of all those who read our posts about family and family history, and their kindness in making comments to encourage us to keep going. The generosity of all those people who indexed dutifully in the pre-digital age and even now with digital records. Really I could go on and on and on….

Where would be without generosity in our genea-circles?

F is for the focus of our research – family

Alona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.

The letter F goes to the heart of what we do: Family and Family History.

Image from clip art.

F is for Family: the people you’re doing this for – the family descendants long into the future, our siblings, children and grandchildren.  An aide memoir: it will be no use to them if we don’t leave our research organised and written up in such a way that they can benefit from it.

F is for Family:  I just said that, right? How about the families you’re researching? Who are the people you’re trying to learn more about? This all seems moderately self-evident but along the way you’ll need to make some decisions about your personal definition of family. Are you going to include only biological members of the family and if so will you include those who’ve perhaps been fostered or adopted out? What about children who are adopted into the family and who are naturally treated day-to-day as part of the family? I faced these questions when I wrote my family history and regard this as a critical consideration. For myself I wanted to include anyone who was born to a family member or who had been assimilated into the family. Only you can make these decisions. Of course you can also be misogynistic and only include the men and name only the women as they are born then ignore them for ever after. You won’t be surprised this was not my method even though I have been given a family tree exactly like this.

F is for Family Support: There is not a doubt in my mind that most of us rely on our other halves/family members to support us in this quest, to listen as we rattle off our recent discoveries, to humour us in our never-ending pursuit for information, not to mention driving us to cemeteries and hopefully joining in the search.  Much of it may be a mystery to them, but they’re there for us and can be a great cheer squad. Thanks Mr Cassmob!

F is for Focus: You know those days when you’ve been on the computer too long or at the archives all day. Your eyes and mind start to wander and it’s all too easy to miss that pivotal clue, so taking a break may actually pay off so you can regather your focus. Of course when you’re down the hole after the rabbit no one has a chance of breaking your focus, let alone getting your attention.

F is for Forensic Skills: You don’t need to know what you’re looking for, so they tell us. Well unless you acquire some forensic skills along the way you may well end up with a very strange tree. Each piece of information we acquire needs to be assessed in the context of the other documentary evidence and weighed up for accuracy and reliability of proof. We need to have the willingness to test our findings or those oral history stories against other evidence. Then we need to ferret out those titbits that are hidden away in esoteric places like archives, museums and libraries and again weigh up their merit. It becomes a dance of information which only our increasingly discerning skills can bring together to tell an accurate story. Really it could be Q for Questions as much as anything as we keep querying our research to build our family’s history.

Family History Alphabet: Attributes with E…

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.

The letter E seems to Encapsulate quite a few attributes for family historians.

Ethics: How on earth did I forget this one on my first pass? Far too important to leave out, I’m adding it late. There are so many ethical issues we face as family historians. In particular those that affect living people and which may be confidential. Ensuring we don’t publish or put information about living people online without their permission. Ensuring we respect other’s work, copyright etc. Treating even the dead with respect, so that we tell the truth as we find it in the records but with compassion and not in a sensational way as if their only purpose is to give us a Good Story. Weighing up the stories we’re told by others, looking for possible bias, and presenting a balanced story.

Enthusiasm: When we start out on our journey we may be tentative and unsure about what we’ll find, but as we learn more about our ancestral families we become if anything over-Enthusiastic. However there are times when the trail turns cold when we need to heat up our Enthusiasm.

Expand our perspectives: I know I’m talking to the converted here, but blogs and reading of the old-fashioned kind broaden our perspectives and strategies.

An Office Clip Art image.

Managing Expectations:  Linked to those lulls in enthusiasm, we need to manage our expectations. Some questions will never be answered but with luck may be intuited to a degree from other reliable sources. Some sources simply no longer exist. You may have to manage others’ expectations as well. How often have you heard the questions “Aren’t you finished with that yet?” or “How far back have you gone?” What emphasis you place on your family history research, and where it takes you, is up to you…do you look at all your branches? Try to go back in time as far as possible? Try to learn more about each ancestor and their life?

Education, an Enquiring mind and Exploring: True of life in general but this obsession of ours challenges us daily to learn more, to try new strategies, to learn new technologies. That enquiring mind will be your guide in planning new research paths, developing research hypotheses and exploring new sources of information. Learn, learn, learn!

Energy: You need a lot of energy to keep going on the research trail, to climb cemetery fences, to explore old homesites….

Excellence: In some ways an ambitious goal but we can aim for the stars in our research, how we tell the stories and document our findings. This isn’t a goal to beat ourselves up with, this is one to inspire us to keep learning and trying.

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude[i]. Ralph  Marston

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young[ii]. Henry Ford.

Family History Alphabet: D is for dedication, determination and discernment

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research. We’ve reached the letter D already and here are my nominations:

D is for dedication: the marriage of devotion or love, belief and commitment to this adventure that you’re on.

D is for determination: the need to push beyond the first (or umpteenth) stumbling block and keep researching, coming back for more.

D is for discernment (aka blarney detector): the ability to weed out facts from fantasy, to weigh up the merits of a story and determine how it might be proven/invalidated, and to know it needs to be. The ability and/or skill to weigh up data from different sources and determine their consistency and validity, and to know it needs to be.

What attributes starting with the letter D would you add?

Most achievers I know are people who have made a strong and deep dedication to pursuing a particular goal. That dedication took a tremendous amount of effort. Donald Johanson, an archaeologist.[i]

Family History Alphabet: C is for….

Alona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.  Let me suggest some Characteristics I think we need.

C is for COMMITMENT: think of this as a long voyage not a quick dash to the shop. We won’t finish our family history quickly and we need commitment every step along the way to explore options and learn new information and skills.

It’s a climb to work through our family history but we can learn from, and share with, others on our journey. Cartoon from Microsoft Office online.

C is for COURTESY: we’re all in the same boat trying to learn more about our families. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that not everyone is as obsessive dedicated as we are, and we need to recognise they may need more time to engage with us and our research wish list.

C is for CITE: another important way to show courtesy for fellow researchers is by always acknowledging their work when using their photos, writing or findings.

C is for CONTRIBUTE: we can help out our research mates by cheering them on, supporting their endeavours, helping them with tips and skills or brainstorming.

When a language creates as it does a community within the present, it does so only by courtesy of a community between the present and the past. Christopher Ricks[i]

Family History Alphabet series: B is for….

Alona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.  Here is my selection of  B attributes.

Believe in yourself and your family history project: it’s bigger than you are.

B is for our BELIEF in the value of the work we’re doing and the importance of recording our family stories to share with our family and descendants.

B is for the BRAVERY you’ll need to take on the challenges ahead of you on this exploration of family and to cold-call, email or write to relatives you’ve never met.

B is for the personal BENEFITS you’ll gain from your research, not only new skills but new insights into your family and yourself.

B is for the BOOTS you’re going to need when you head out to “walk the land” or get down and dirty in the cemeteries you need to explore. (yes, I know, boots are more assets than attributes…perhaps getting down and dirty should be under bravery as well).

What “B” attributes do you think we need?

To succeed, we must first believe that we can. Michael Korda[i]

Family History alphabet series: Attributes of family historians

When Alona Tester from Gould Genealogy first raised this Family History through the Alphabet series, I thought it was a great idea but had run out of puff a bit after the April daily A to Z challenge. Now that I’ve regrouped I thought I’d take up this weekly series. After some “R for reflection”, I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians. So without further ado, here are my “A” entries.

A is for Application: family history is about 5% luck and 95% application. Or as a fellow researcher in Darwin says “the harder I work, the luckier I get”.

A is for Accuracy: our goal as researchers is to be accurate in documenting the information we find, and amend or add if new information comes to hand.

A is for Acknowledgements: we need to formally recognise the work of those who go before us, those random acts of genealogical kindness, or the assistance others give us along the way, with data, photographs, writing etc.

What “A” attributes do you think we need? 

Thanks to Alona and Gould Genealogy for the inspiration of this series.