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Genealogy Gratitude: Giving Thanks for Family Members, Databases, and Online Education

Thanks to guest-blogger, Lisa Alzo, for the following article.

IStock_000024207802XSmallCan you believe it's that time of year again?  The holiday season is in full swing with Thanksgiving 2013 now a memory. For one day, many people turned their attention to turkey, times with family, and football. Perhaps you were even among those who braved the Black Friday (or this year, the Thanksgiving Day) sales at favorite retailers.

While I wasn't shopping, I did pause on Thanksgiving Day to remember those things I'm grateful for: my health, my loved ones and friends, the opportunity to earn a living doing what I love (writing and teaching), and so much more. Also on my “gratitude list” this year are resources I use for my genealogical research.  While my full list is actually quite long, for this post I will focus on just three.

1.  Family Members. Family members are the foundation of our family history. How amazing is it when we are contacted by cousins we've never met or when Aunt Betty shares with us that box of old photos, or give us a precious family heirloom? The holiday season is the perfect time to celebrate and nurture this essential component of genealogy. In fact, it's no coincidence that each year The National Day of Listening happens on the day after Thanksgiving (this year November 29th). The National Day of Listening is a new National Holiday started by StoryCorps in 2008 to encourage everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a loved one. Back in the early 1990s, I interviewed my parents, and all of my aunts and uncles. I recorded the interviews on a mini-cassette recorder, and then transcribed the interviews.  This was one of the smartest moves I made back when I was a “newbie” genealogist. Although my technique may not have necessarily been the best, at least I did get their stories, in their words! And, that really is the point to The National Day of Listening—to remind us how important it is to record those family stories—not just on one designated day, but during family gatherings whether at Thanksgiving or other holidays, a reunion, or a date of your choosing. And the best part about it is you can use whatever recording equipment you have handy—computers, iPhones, or tape recorders. StoryCorps even provides a free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide. For even more tips, check out Thomas MacEntee’s new book, Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories (PDF edition, $3.49). Once you have the stories recorded and are ready to share them, check out my Writing Your Family History QuickGuide ™ (available in print and PDF editions).

2. Online Databases.  I'm grateful for online genealogy databases—both those that are free, and even those that require a paid subscription. When I starting working on my own genealogy more than 23 years ago, there was no Ellis Island Database (EIDB), FamilySearch (website) or Ancestry.com. I remember that when the EIDB came online 1 April 2001, their servers were overwhelmed and it was nearly impossible to access the site to search for passenger lists. I set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. to avoid the dreaded “site is too busy” message to search for my grandparents’ records. Then, with my Ancestry.com subscription, I found more information in their census, immigration, and military collections. Now, thanks to FamilySearch, I can track my ancestors in free digitized records from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even Slovakia! I’m amazed that I can now view my grandmother’s 1897 baptismal record online 24/7, where previously I had to order microfilm or write to the church or foreign archive to obtain the same document. Other sites such as Genealogy Bank, FindMyPast, Mocavo, and MyHeritage, and Google have helped me make even more progress in my research without leaving home.

3. Continuing Education. There are so many educational opportunities now available for genealogists, including conferences, online courses, webinars, chats, and hangouts. Sometimes it is difficult to keep up! For a list, visit GeneaWebinars.com. With now more than 204 hours of genealogy education available Legacy’s Family Tree Webinars offers a wind range of topics for subscribers. Another exciting year is in the works for 2014. Keep watching FamiyTreeWebinars for the announcement of the 2014 lineup. In addition, as of this writing, there are currently 85 Legacy QuickGuides (PDF) from expert authors available and 50 Kindle versions via Amazon.com.

Final Words

When it comes to genealogy and family history, there are other resources I greatly appreciate such as libraries, genealogy software, genealogical and historical societies, social media, DNA testing, and much more. I could go on, but I will stop here and just wish everyone an abundance of genealogical research success during the holiday season and beyond! 

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer, and has been tracking her ancestors for 23 years. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.


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