Carrie Bratcher, librarian at the The Filson Historical Society, and Joe Hardesty, the Kentucky History and Genealogy librarian with the Louisville Free Public Library, have been helping people with their family history research for decades. Here are their tips to get you started:
- Talk with your oldest living relative to capture as much oral information as possible. Get a young relative to help with making an audio or video recording of the session to get them involved.
- Ask about the birth, marriage, and death dates of relatives.
- Have a scrapbook or photo album on hand to spark memories.
- Fill out a Family Pedigree (Ancestral) Chart.
- Fill out a Family Group Record on each set of parents, grandparents, etc., which allows for detailed information about each person such as religion, occupation, other spouses, wives, and children.
- Visit a local genealogy library and search through documents, microfilm, and online databases such as ancestry.com and familysearch.com to gather more family information.
- Mine vital statistics records, such as birth and death certificates and U.S. Census data.
- Fill out a Resource Entry/Source Form as you go along to document your research. If you are seeking admission to a society such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, you will need proof of your findings.
- If you find some information in a book, photocopy the title page to save the title, author, publisher, and publication date.
Preserving Your Family History
- Scan and digitize documents, newspaper clippings, and photos. Store the digital information in several places, such as on a flash drive and a DVD.
- Upload family data and photos to a cloud server as another avenue to preserve and share the information (you can set who can access the information.)
- Remove photos from old photo albums — especially black paper ones and those with the ‘magnetic’ plastic sheets — if it can be done safely. Place the photos in acid-free albums in plastic sleeves. If you think removal will damage an item, leave it. You can put acid-free paper between the black paper pages.
- Don’t write on photos. Write on file folder labels and place them on the outside of the plastic sleeve. If you must write on the photos, use pencil rather than pen, which will leave an indentation.
- Print as many photos as you can as another safeguard. Prints can last hundreds of years.
- Store photos on DVDs and flash drives as another safeguard, though digital files last less time and need maintenance to keep from corrupting. Also, digital formats change, hampering accessibility. It takes a lot of time to go through and decide what you want to keep.
- Store documents and letters in acid-free archival boxes. You want to keep them from getting smudged and handled too much. Wedding dresses can be stored in archival boxes and quilts in pillowcases.
- Some family documents, photos, and art might qualify to be donated to a historical society or museum. They will be maintained and preserved so future generations can have access to them.
- Distribute mementos to relatives instead of storing them, so they can be enjoyed and make you and other family members feel closer to the relative who owned them.
Interested in finding out more? You can read the rest of the article in the fall issue of Today’s Transitions.
By Marie Bradby | Photos by Melissa Donald