Friday, February 26, 2016

The 21 Day Genealogy Challenge -- Day One: Prepare!

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success – Alexander Graham Bell

Welcome to the 21 Day Genealogy Challenge!  It is my hope that these next three weeks will help you organize your thoughts and begin or recommit to doing your family history work.  Our first day is focused on preparation.  Without proper planning we are easily distracted from our goal which is to find our ancestors!


Let’s begin by taking a moment to ask ourselves “What is our desired goal?”  More specifically, “What is it we want to know?”  Maybe we want to learn more about our parents and what their lives were like before they met and had children.  Or, there is a grandparent you know very little about?  Decide who it is you want to research and let that individual be the focus for the next 21 days.


 Next, we want to create a workspace that we feel comfortable with for the next three weeks.  We need a place where our work can sit and not have to be put away at the end of each day.  If the space in your home is limited, be certain to keep your work stored somewhere you can access easily and your papers will not get confused with a child’s homework or other activities going on in the home.

Genealogy Programs

You now should consider what program you plan to use online and/or offline.  If you do not have a genealogy program, find one you are comfortable with and set up your account.  There are online accounts that you can set up for free, but to access information may cost a monthly to annual fee.  There are also programs that you can set up for free and use their service for free, but you need to understand the differences in the services regarding the tree you set up.  Here are two examples.

1. has a free starter membership.  You can create a tree that you choose to make public or private.  Either choice you make, all living individuals added to your tree will have their information private – meaning you will be the only one who can see what you entered.  If your tree is public, the only ancestors that will be seen by the public are those ancestors that are deceased.  Living individuals (parents, grandparents, etc) that are in your tree will not have their information accessible to anyone but you, and will only be seen as PRIVATE by others viewing your tree.

You will find with Ancestry that record hints pertaining to your ancestor will appear, but in some cases you will have to pay a membership fee to access those records.  It is up to you as to whether or not you would like to move forward with that type of membership.

Keep in mind this:  Your tree in Ancestry is your tree.  Unless you give someone permission (in the tree settings) to make edits to the tree, no one can change any details you have added to an individual.  Likewise, if you find another person’s tree on Ancestry that contains your ancestor, you cannot make edits to that person’s tree.  It is their tree.  You can however, leave a comment or send a private message to the tree owner.

2. is a free service.  Unlike Ancestry where each member has their own personal tree, FamilySearch is one tree in which every member adds their ancestors.  When an ancestor’s information is entered, the system will prompt you to do a search to verify if that particular person is already in the tree.  If he or she is not, you will be given the opportunity to add him or her.  Like Ancestry, living individuals added to the tree will not appear to other viewers.  The only person who can see the information will be the person who entered it.  

Because the tree in FamilySearch is one united tree, other members can add and adjust information regarding any given ancestor within the tree; however, when changes are made, the system will give a prompt requesting a reason for the change.  It is important to include sources and documentation to each ancestor you add to the system.  This lets other researchers see that information regarding the ancestor has been sourced and verified.  Understand that some sources can give conflicting evidence.  As this challenge goes on, we will discuss where to find sources and how to attach them to an ancestor’s file.

FamilySearch will offer source hints to ancestors in the tree, or you can do a site search to find information.  Unless the site directs you to an outside source, all information given within FamilySearch is free of charge.

I have listed two online programs here, but there are others readily available.  Two others that come to mind are FindMyPast and MyHeritage.  The choice is yours as to which program best suits your needs.  Ancestry and FamilySearch happen to be two programs I use.

You may choose to use a software program like RootsMagic or FamilyTreeMaker.  There are many varieties on the market.  Again, the choice is yours.  Perhaps you are old school and like to stick with the pedigree charts and family group sheets.  There is no wrong way.  Whatever you are comfortable with is the right way for you. 

Genealogy Journal

One thing I like to do when researching is to keep a Genealogy Journal.  Each day I record which ancestor I studied and log what information was found.  I also list questions that come to mind as I am finding evidence.  I never rely on my mind to remember the next day or the next time I pick up my research again.  It may seem like a repetitive step to take since you have a tree with notes already, but I promise you, you will be glad you kept a Genealogy Journal.  It is also something you can carry with you when you go to various sites to continue research.

Include Your Family

Finally, as you begin this 21 Day Challenge, let your family know you will be doing family history work for the next three weeks.  Reach out to your extended family and let them know you may be in touch to ask some questions or get ideas of who in the family tree to research.  Your relatives may question why you are doing this.  Be sure to let them know that your interest is to learn more about your heritage and to ensure that your family history can be passed down to future generations.
Here is your 5 Point Review:

  •  What ancestor do you want to research?
  •  Prepare a place to work for the next 21 days.
  • Choose a program to log your ancestral information.  This can be online or a software program.
  •  Keep a Genealogy Journal.
  • Let your family know about your project and enlist their help.

This is going to be an amazing journey.  As we move forward, feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the blog comment section below.