Combating family history misconceptions

If you hear the words "family history" and instantly think you are not qualified — think again. Family history work is for everyone. Read on for five tips to get started with your own family tree.

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  • A few years ago, my grandma and aunt put together family history books complete with pictures, stories, and pedigree charts for members of the family. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy. It is a very special and treasured keepsake that I have come to love dearly.

  • When I first received the book, I flipped through the pages and, sadly, that is about it. For quite a while, it sat on my bookshelf, dusty and alone. Then, after an incredibly difficult trial my family was facing, I spotted that long forgotten book. For the next few hours, I poured over the pages and was in awe of my heritage. My ancestors led incredible lives and dealt with heart-breaking trials. I was filled with comfort and pride knowing that I got to follow in their footsteps.

  • From that point, I have felt connected to my ancestors. I am intrigued by the family lines that stop a few generations back. My dad's great-grandfather came from Lebanon, but no one knows much about his parents. Solving little mysteries are exciting to me. When they involve family lines, I can't help but get involved and do something about it.

  • Since discovering my new passion, I have been given many opportunities to share my knowledge with others. However, when the topic of family history work comes up, I am almost guaranteed to hear one (or more) or the following responses:

    • "I have no idea where to start."

    • "All of my family history work is done. There isn't a thing for me to do."

    • "Family history work is for the 'older generation.'"

    • "I don't have time."

    • "I'm just not interested."

  • I understand that these are (somewhat) valid arguments. But I hope to put an end to them. Knowing what your ancestors faced before you can give you incredible strength for what lies ahead in your own life.

  • If you have found yourself thinking any of the above things, it is OK. I'm here to help with solutions for combating these common family history misconceptions:

  • Misconception #1: I have no idea where to start

  • Solution: Start right now

  • There are dozens (if not hundreds) of family history websites. My all-time favorites are ancestry.com and familysearch.org. Ancestry requires a monthly membership, but they offer a completely free two-week trial. Whether you sign up at ancestry.com or not, I highly recommend creating a free account on FamilySearch. It is extremely user-friendly, and there is so much information to be found on that website alone.

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  • Misconception #2: All of my family history work is done. There isn't a thing for me to do.

  • Solution: Think again

  • I can almost guarantee that there are things for you to do. I recently discovered a discrepancy between children listed on FamilySearch and a 1900 Census record. Even though this family line was discovered years ago, two of the children had not been added on Family Search.

  • If you have some family history gurus in your family, chances are the lines have been uncovered, but what about stories connected with those ancestors? Names are great, but real stories? Those are priceless. Think about your oldest living relatives and visit them (if you live close) or give them a call on the phone. You may be surprised what you find out about those who have gone before you.

  • Misconception #3: Family history work is for the "older generation."

  • Solution: Prove the stereotype wrong

  • It's true, when I think of family history work I can't help but picture the older generation. But have you thought about what an advantage you have being part of a younger generation? Technology is all the rage right now. Chances are, you can navigate your way around a website easily. Use these skills to do something productive.

  • Misconception #4: I don't have time

  • Solution: You make time for whatever is most important to you

  • Sir John Lubbock once said, "In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking." How true that is. Start with 10 minutes and watch one of the video tutorials on Family Search. There are hundreds of videos available on almost every topic imaginable. I promise you will not be wasting your time.

  • If videos aren't your thing, indexing is another simple way to contribute. Not sure what indexing is? This is what Family Search has to say on the topic:

  • "Your time is a huge gift. FamilySearch indexing unlocks access to the world's records by making them searchable for free at FamilySearch.org. Once indexed, people from anywhere in the world can search to find the records that document the lives of their ancestors, providing an invaluable link between the generations. The availability of a single record is often the key that allows someone to discover an ancestor — or an entire branch of a family tree. Every record you index is important because it helps document someone's life, and everyone deserves a legacy."

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  • Misconception #5: I'm just not interested

  • Solution: Really, truly give it a try

  • I want you to give it your best shot. Sign up for the free trial at ancestry.com and create an account with Family Search. Spend adequate time talking to your relatives and create your very own pedigree chart. Talk to others interested in family history and ask them how they got started.

  • I hope you will be able to recognize the importance of family history work and that you will be blessed for your efforts.

  • Just prepare yourself. It's contagious.

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Jessie McKinley is a city girl living in a small town. A graduate in Home and Family Living, she now puts her knowledge to use daily as she teaches and raises her two young children, whom she adores.

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