Do you use Facebook? I use the social networking website to post genealogy resources I think other family historians will be interested in. I also post about women’s history and books, basically anything that I think might be helpful to my Facebook friends. When I’m not posting resources and sources I’m asking questions.
A lot of questions.
Why? I believe that everyone is an expert in something. That expertise might simply be the experience of having lived in a specific place, witnessing an historical event, or eating a specific recipe. I know that those I network with have something that can benefit me as I try to understand my own family history and my ancestor’s life experiences.
Family history research requires us to delve into numerous types of records created over generations. That research requires us to know more than how to use a website search engine. For example, knowledge of country and county boundary changes and laws that impacted records help in seeking and finding documents. A good researcher doesn’t know everything. They know where to find information or who to ask.
A Sampling of Experts
You need an expert to answer a question, so who do you ask? Aside from using social media to find answers some other experts to consider include:
Professional Genealogists: Professional genealogists have two strengths, knowledge of genealogy methodology and how to solve problems. They also know the ins and outs of researching a specific place, either where they live or the location they specialize in. You can find professionals via organizations like the Association of Professional Genealogists, ICAPGen, or the Board for Certification of Genealogists as well as a local genealogy society.
Librarians: Librarians know how to find information. They know how and where to search. They can take your idea and turn it into finding the information you need. Luckily, there are different types of libraries (think: academic, public, private, national, etc.) which means librarians can specialize in information that you need for your research.
Archivists: What’s important to family history research is original records that are housed offline. Archivists can help you search their archival collections, explain records, and give you ideas for next steps.
History Society/Genealogy Society Volunteers: History and genealogy society volunteers love what you love….family and local history. They know the location you are researching and they know about their resources. They are the perfect people to ask about what resources are available and problem solve local history problems.
Who Else are Experts?
Those four groups of people are a good start when we consider experts to consult, but they aren't the only ones. The expert you need depends on your research question. I recently had a question about harvesting sea sponges so I asked my dive instructor son who answered scuba questions and shared some videos with me. I’ve asked genealogy related questions of everyone from family members, friends, professors and teachers, to complete strangers who I struck up conversations with and discovered a hobby or experience that I had questions about. I even consult other genealogists who have experience in research areas that I don’t.
So consider the ancestor you are researching. What was their occupation, religion, or the membership group they belonged to? Where did they live? What did they experience that you are not familiar with? What record might you find them in but you’ve never researched? What brick wall do you have that seems to be unbreakable? Experts not only help us find records and problem solve but they can also help us better understand a time and place.
Don’t forget about the power of social media to reach out and ask questions. Facebook is a great place to join groups for the place your ancestor lived, for a topic that’s important for your research. Remember to download the Facebook group lists created and maintained by Katherine R Willson, Alona Tester, and Gail Dever to find groups that would benefit your research. If you are on Twitter, take a look at past genealogy chats or join in a future one to network with other researchers who may be able to help. Twitter genealogy chats include #genchat, #AncestryHour, and #BWBHour (Brick Wall Busters). Don’t forget to use social media to post your question and see who answers.
Genealogy is seen as a solitary pursuit but I know for me, my research is greatly enhanced by the questions I ask and the answers I receive from others.
Who are your experts? What questions do you have that could use some crowdsourcing?
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.