What are your 2012 genealogy resolutions? Try these top five suggestions on for size:
1. Pounce on the 1940 Federal Census as soon as it is released in April. In the meantime, spruce up your records for ancestors living in the 1930s. Fill in any gaps you have that lead up to your ancestor’s life on census date in 1940. The main piece of information you will want to locate is your ancestor’s address at that time. This census, taken 72 years ago, is the latest to be released by the National Archives and Records Administration. It will be the first to be released only in digital form. There will be no microfilm produced, which has been the normal method for decades. An initial drawback is that the information is not yet indexed; however there are volunteers across the country who will be indexing as fast as they can. Find out about indexing efforts at http://the1940census.com.
2. Review your database subscriptions. Make sure that you have the online access you need in order to use various databases. Two leading free websites for United States genealogy are familysearch.org and usgenweb.com. FamilySearch delivers more results, including document images, when you register. USGenWeb does not require a subscription, but it does accept donations. FamilySearch is sponsored by the LDS church. USGenWeb is a nationwide volunteer effort. Other top websites are ancestry.com, fold3.com and genealogybank.com. Each of these offers some level of service for free, but to get the full benefit the paid subscriptions are often necessary. Check on-line for New Year’s specials for these sites, which can be pricey.
3. Review your society memberships. Genealogists, who normally collect “dead relatives,” are also joiners among the living! Join your local society, even if you have moved in to the area and do not have forebears to research. The benefits to you include education and camaraderie. Also, join societies in far-flung areas where your people once lived. The dues for such societies are generally low and frequently offer free queries. Also, consider a membership to a society that is not based on geography but based on a research interest, such as Cherokee, adoption, immigration. Finally, update your membership in national societies, such as the National Genealogical Society. If you (and your paperwork) are ready, now is the time to send in an application to a lineage society.
4. Plan for this year’s education. Genealogy is a field where there is always something to learn. New record releases, new methodologies and new speakers keep the field vibrant and interesting. Will you look for conferences, workshops and classes close to home, in a destination you’ve always wanted to visit, on a cruise ship or on the Internet? It’s up to you. Classes abound, and you are sure to find one that meets your needs and whets your appetite for more.
5. Share your research. This is one of the most important aspects of genealogy. We sometimes sit at our computer and simply “collect” ancestors. We file them away and never think of them again. Preserve family stories. Write them down. Email them. Blog about them. Collaborate with others when there is a particularly knotty problem. Share. Have a family reunion. Visit an old-time community “Homecoming.” Make sure that those dry statistics – names, dates and places – don’t become the end-all and be-all of your work.
You will be able to come up with many more resolutions that fit your research and your experience level. Genealogy is a lifelong pursuit for many people. Intrinsic rewards are abundant—and much more so to the genealogist who takes stock and sets goals.
Ask the Ancestors is a family and local history column by professional genealogist Lisa McKinney. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.