5 Ways to Enjoy Family History Month

Introduction: In this article – in celebration of October being Family History Month – Gena Philibert-Ortega suggests five family history tasks you can tackle this month. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

October is Family History Month, which means that it’s a good time to focus on your own genealogy research. Set a goal for October and start working towards learning more. How can you do that and what are some family history tasks you can tackle this month? Here are five ideas to get you started.

1) Write a Plan. One of the benefits of having so much genealogically relevant information available to us on the Internet is that we can research 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and look up pretty much any ancestor. So, what’s the downside? That we can research 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and look up pretty much any ancestor!

Let me explain. In order to do focused research that answers questions we have about our family history, we must first decide what we want to know and then create a research plan. That research plan allows us to choose a question, write out what we know, and decide on where we should look next. I strongly suggest you consider a research plan before you just blindly start typing search terms into a search engine. While conducting searches on genealogy websites without any planning will get you some answers, the research plan will help you focus on what needs to be answered – and it will help keep you from conducting the same research with the same results over and over again. To learn more about research plans, see Kimberly Powell’s article Think Like a Detective – How to Develop a Genealogy Research Plan.

2) Start at Home. Maybe you’ve been on research trips and brought home stacks of photocopies (I know I have). Now’s the time to tackle the task of sorting through those piles, entering the information in your genealogy software program or online family tree, and then deciding whether those paper copies should be archived or disposed of. Finding the information about your ancestor is the fun part of the research process – but equally important is the time you spend compiling and analyzing what you found. Grab a pile of those photocopies and sit down and start analyzing this month, so that seemingly mile-high pile goes down a few feet.

3) Scan. I wrote previously about being evacuated due to a fire (see What Would You Take? Evacuating Your Genealogy in an Emergency). In the time I had before I left, I hurriedly looked around my home in an effort to decide what to take. There was just too much. Too much stuff and I didn’t have the energy, time, or car space to grab it all. My main concern was: had I scanned all the photos? I knew that answer was “no” but in the stress of the moment I couldn’t remember what had been scanned and what hadn’t. That’s why I’ll be spending some of October scanning and storing my photos on my computer, backup drive, and my cloud storage service.

4) Grow Your Online Tree. Years ago, one of my cousins passed away, leaving all of her genealogy research and photos to me. She was doing genealogy before the Internet, so let’s just say I have a lot of paper copies to sort through. I feel like enough time has passed that it’s time for me to start doing something with all that information, much of which is not my family line. Slowly I’m growing an online tree of her data and photos in the hopes that it might help another researcher. Storing the stuff at my house isn’t helping anyone and her hard work deserves to be used to help others. October is a great time to spend growing an online tree.

5) Read All about Your Ancestors. It’s easy to pick and choose which ancestors to search for in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Maybe you need an obituary, or you realize that your grandparents celebrated a 50th anniversary, or that a great-uncle died in a car accident. But take some time this month to research differently. Now’s the time to take one branch of your family tree and go through each ancestor (and collateral family) and search for newspaper articles. Why invest time in searching on collateral family? Remember that siblings, children, aunts and uncles may be featured in newspaper articles that mention other family members, including your direct-line ancestors. So, researching beyond your direct line is important.

Start Planning What You Will Do!

Now that October’s here, make the most of Family History Month! Decide on a project and start working at it a little bit each day or each weekend. Even 30 minutes on select days will get you a little closer to where you want to be.

Happy Family History Month!

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