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'Genealogy for the First Time'    Send a link to a friend

[NOV. 26, 2003]  "Genealogy for the First Time: Research Your Family History." Laura Best, Sterling Publishing Co., 2003, 112 pages.

Review by Richard Sumrall

Genealogy for the first time: Research Your Family HistoryGenealogy (or family history, as it is more commonly called) continues to be one of the most popular pursuits in the world. In her new book, "Genealogy for the First Time," author and researcher Laura Best writes, "Various reasons are cited for people's fascination with their ancestors. For many, what starts as a simple curiosity, grows into an obsession." The study of one's family history is more than names, dates or kinship to royalty; it is a person's search for "past family members in order to learn of and record the unique and authentic lives of those who formed [your] heritage."

In searching for that heritage Best has outlined a logical, systematic method for genealogical research that instructs anyone interested in their family's past.

"Genealogy Basics"

Usually the first question anyone asks when considering tracing his or her lineage is, "How do I begin?" It's best to begin with the information you have in your possession: family documents, letters, Bibles, photographs, newspaper clippings and any other scrap of information that will help you establish a basic line of names and times. Don't forget the most important source of information -- family members and relatives.

You should also develop a form that you can use to record, compile and store your data for retrieval at a later date. Today's obvious choice for such retrieval is the computer; for those uncomfortable with computers a simple paper filing system will suffice.

Best explains the two different kinds of information that you will encounter in gathering your information. A primary source of information is a record created at the time of an event, usually by someone with personal knowledge. A secondary source of information consists of records created after an event took place or by someone who was not an eyewitness to the event.

"Basic Research Techniques"

According to Best there are seven steps to completing a proper research cycle:

--Consult your information sheets and set a goal.

--Choose the records needed to reach your goal.

--Locate those records and sources of information.

--Transfer the information to your family group sheets or pedigree charts (a family "tree" that serves as the master outline of your information).

--Always cite your sources (genealogical information can be nortoriously inaccurate).

--Make and file copies of the documents.

--Evaluate the new information to determine if it meets your goal.


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Best explains each of these steps and how a researcher can put them to good use. She also describes how to incorporate the personal computer into the seven-step routine and how to use a computer to access the Internet for genealogical information. She cautions that using a computer does not excuse researchers from ignoring the basic research techniques; it's also important to sift through the enormous volume of data on the Internet by beginning your online research at a reputable, comprehensive website.

"Beyond The Basics"

Once you are ready to begin your research, you will discover that there are an almost endless number of resources for you to explore. In this section Best looks at some of the most popular resources and describes their value to genealogists. These sources include family Bibles, census records, maps, photographs, cemetery inscriptions, church records, land and tax records, military files, wills and probates, immigration and passenger lists, early newspapers, and naturalization and citizenship records.

All of these potential sources are important to establish what Best calls a "chain of evidence." She states that developing a pedigree chart is similar to the links in a chain: "The chain depends upon each link to add strength by the amount of evidence obtained. In research, the goal should be to build up a chain of evidence in which each link is strong enough to support the next."

"Unique Uses of Genealogy Findings"

As your research progresses and your family history starts to come together, the question arises regarding the presentation of your work. Aside from the compilation of the information onto computer discs or pedigree charts, some of the more interesting presentation methods involve family photographic displays or compilations of heritage scrapbooks. Genograms can illustrate the structure and characteristics of a family across three or more generations. Akin to (but not replacing) a pedigree chart, genograms look beneath the surface of names, dates and places so that one can recognize family characteristics and patterns at a glance. According to Best, "By seeing family patterns in a genogram, individuals may realize their personal identity more fully by seeing themselves as part of greater family network."

"Genealogy for the First Time" is a wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated book on researching your family history. Best has incorporated all of the standard accepted practices related to this kind of a project and has skillfully integrated the latest technologies into the overall concept of searching for one's ancestors. A glossary of genealogy terms and a list of the most popular Internet sites complete the work. This book is recommended for anyone interested in or currently working on his or her family history.

[Richard Sumrall,
 Lincoln Public Library District]

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