Genealogy has always been a fascinating subject. With the advancement in technology, however, more individuals are tracing their heritage.
“These days, researching family histories is faster because information is more accessible,” says Lauren Peightel, Coordinator of Family History Programming at the Indiana Historical Society. There is, however, a caveat. “We call it the family tree’s ‘shaky leaf,’ because determining the reliability of the information you uncover can be tricky.”
Perform Due Diligence
That’s why it’s key for folks to perform their due diligence when researching. This means utilizing standardized records, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, and cross-referencing materials to determine a document’s validity. Check archival records at churches, cemeteries, schools, hospitals — anywhere that may have a paper trail on someone’s life. Yearbooks and manuscript collection are other possible sources.
“Sometimes things don’t add up and you have to figure out why,” says Peightel, who suggests making a timeline, starting with yourself, and going backwards. “Sit down with older family members and ask them to identify people in photographs.”
Have Some Luck
Peightel maintains that how far back a person can trace his or her genealogy is dependent on luck.
“If ancestors were part of a famous family or royalty, others have already traced those lines,” says Peightel. “For families whose ancestors were slaves, immigrants or refugees, however, it’s difficult to find records past a certain point. And though you may find hundreds-year-old documents, at some point it’ll give way to oral legend.”
Use Free Resources
Peightel suggests utilizing free resources to search historical records such as familysearch.org and cyndislist.com, a categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the internet. She also suggests attending genealogy conferences. The Midwestern Roots Family History Conference, scheduled for July 18-20 at the Indiana History Center, includes nationally recognized genealogists.
Social Media Conversations
Even social media conversations can prove helpful.
“You’d be surprised how many Facebookers are dedicated to specific interests in genealogy, particularly where DNA is concerned,” says Peightel.
Genetic testing is gaining popularity as folks seek to learn if they’re genetically predisposed to developing health issues such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. Sites such as familytreedna.com offer testing to determine health, genetic traits and personal wellness. Peightel notes that 23andMe.com does DNA testing with genetic health screening, though isn’t a great DNA test for ancestry purposes. (Check out Ancestry.com and TribalPages.com.)
Digital VS HardCopy
Because documents can get destroyed in fires and floods, securing both digital and hard-copy back-ups is essential to make information accessible to future generations.
“After all, what’s the point in doing the work if you don’t share what you’ve collected?” says Peightel, who loves helping people find their records so that they can tell their ancestors’ stories.
Ultimately, that’s what life is: one big story.
Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society.