Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Changing Focus: The evolution of an amateur genealogist

As with most things, I'm finding that my genealogy is evolving...

When I started my genealogical journey, I had really only one "goal" and I suppose what you might call a vague "end" in mind.  The goal was to prove that I had an ancestor who had served in the American Revolution, and the "end" was to see what I could find out about where my family came from.  My goal was the result of a promise to my mother to verify a family "legend" and the end...well, I suppose the end I had in mind was what I thought genealogy was all about.

Fast forward a decade or two to the present.... This past fall, I achieved my goal with flying colors (more on that in another post), and in the process, I found out that genealogy isn't necessarily what I originally thought it was - at least not for me.  I started out those many years ago thinking that genealogy was just tracing your family tree back over the generations with as many dates as you could find.  What I have come to find is what many "serious" genealogists probably knew all along:  that genealogy is hard research, exacting documentation and building enough pieces of evidence to say you have "proven" a particular link.

My realization about the "hard" part of genealogy came directly as a result of proving that Revolutionary War lineage.  As I sought that goal, I decided to look into what it would take to join the Sons of the American Revolution and for my daughters to be able to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.  What I found was that those organizations required meticulous documentation and organized research  that up to that point, I had not really been doing.  I was admittedly a very amateur genealogist.

So I went back and assembled and organized all of the documentation to prove my Revolutionary Ancestor.  I went back and documented the U.S. Census records, learning to cite them correctly.  I ordered certified copies of birth, death and marriage certificates where they could be found.  I learned what other cited evidence constituted proof by the standards of the DAR and SAR.  Finally, this winter, the final birth certificates arrived and I was able to submit my application.

After the realization of that goal, I found myself staring at volumes of paper documentation that I had not really organized, cited, noted or officially recorded.  Oh sure, I had used it all when I was putting those names and dates into my Family Tree Maker program over the years.  I had multiple generations going back nearly three centuries in a couple cases.  But what I realized that I didn't have was documented and cited proof of all of those names and dates.  And there is where the change happened.

I've now gone back to the beginning...back to the very first generation.  I am going through all of those volumes of paper and organizing, properly recording and citing my evidence to formally prove all of my generations of lineage.  So needless to say, I now have a new goal of being able to fully present a family history that anyone can follow and enjoy the stories knowing that there is solid evidence behind the "legends" of the family.

My advice to any new genealogists starting out, whether you are doing it just for the "fun" of it or with a specific purpose in mind - stop and take some time to learn what it takes to properly cite a source and what reliable documentation is.  You will thank yourself years down the road when you can look at those volumes that you have accumulated and know exactly where each piece fits!  Enjoy the is as rewarding as any "end goal" that you may have in mind.

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