On Saturday, January 29, 2011 I conducted a beginning genealogy class at the Round Lake Area Library in Round Lake, IL. I had 18 people show up. They were all eager to start hunting for their ancestors. I think it went well and everyone seemed interested and asked questions through out the class. I love the questions because it reminds me of things I may have forgotten to mention. Many of the attendees told me they are looking forward to the next class February 26, 2011 on Beyond the Basics. I like to see so many people interested in their ancestors. I always ask why they want to do it. Most say they just want to know where they came from. Some say they want to be related to someone famous or royalty. I started because our family was small and I wanted more relatives. Not only has it connected me to the past and to history, but also with family I never knew I had. You never know where genealogy will lead you. I have found interesting tidbits about ancestors in wills, land records, obituaries, and newspaper articles. It has given me a peak into their lives beyond just dates. It brings them alive for me.
I kept emphasizing in my class on Saturday that this is not an easy process and that it takes time, patience, and persistence. It’s not as easy as Ancestry.com makes it look on their commercials. You may be very, very, lucky and find your family tree done by someone else, but that is rare. If you are lucky and find one done for you, check it out and make sure the dates are correct and it has documentation. Anyone can put anything on the Internet to Ancestry or Familysearch. You are going to have to do the leg work and go to libraries, archives, court houses, cemeteries, and churches just to name a few. I like the program Who Do You Think You Are, and someone in the class mentioned that he watched it and that made him want to start searching his ancestry. But once again they make it look easy. They don’t show you all the work that was done behind the scenes. The person walks into a library, the researcher opens a book and says, “Here is your ancestor.” It shows the researcher going to Ancestry.com and picking the person’s ancestor out of a census record. In reality they may have sifted threw hundreds of people with the same name to find the person’s ancestor. I think for some beginners the perception is that this will be done in a couple of months because of the program and the advertisement from Ancestry. Ancestry and all the other websites are good tools to use, but they are not end all. You need to actually get off the computer and search other places for ancestors.
Another thing I have found beginners have a hard time with is starting with themselves and working backwards. They want to skip over themselves, their parents, and go right to the grandparents or great grandparents. They come to the class looking for grandpa. When I ask them if they have their own records, and the records of their parents, the answer is usually, “no”. After explaining they have to start with themselves, they will still say, but I don’t know where grandpa lived so how do I find him on the census. So if they took anything away from Saturday’s Class I hope it is that this will not be easy, you will not find it all on the Internet, work backwards, and do not skip yourself.