Monday, March 23, 2015

An Accidental Genealogist

I didn’t set out to be a genealogist. I didn’t say, “I’m going to be a genealogist one day.” There was a day, however, when I said “I am a genealogist.” But it was a long and tortuous journey. My previous blog post about my uncle explains how that journey began. Because I didn’t set out to be a genealogist, I made many, many mistakes as I began my research. Most of those mistakes are discussed in a blog post by Roberta Estes at DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy entitled “Eleven Things I Would Do Differently.”

Although it has been a slow process I, too, have learned a few things.  I always loved the family stories I heard. When I was young my grandfather, Poppy, told me about his travels across the country before he married. I especially remember him talking about the Dalton gang and an Indian princess. Of course, I wish I had asked more questions.  I wish I remembered more, but I wasn’t more than five or six when he told me about them. But I’ve always wondered.  Now I try to record the stories I hear. I started by writing notes about them, but I can’t tell you how many little scraps of paper I have with notes and no identifying information. Yes, even napkins!

Eventually, I started carrying a spiral notebook with me whenever I am with my family or on a research trip. We spend a lot of time driving;   I tried a voice recorder, but it picked up too much road noise. Then I discovered that if I turned on my video camera it recorded the conversation quite nicely. I just set it on the seat or between the seats-I don’t point it at anyone. If I’m not driving I’m also jotting notes in the current spiral notebook. They’re all so used to me doing this now no one pays attention.

If you were to look at all the papers in my office, you can see the evolution of my genealogy research. From scraps of paper with no dates, napkins with scrawled notes, to notebooks and documents with proper citations and photos of documents including title pages and microfilm boxes. I have come a long way. I always travel with a notebook and a camera. If I can, I often make scans or copies too. (I always have a laptop, but I transfer the information to it later.) I have a great digital camera that allows me to take photos, even at 70 miles per hour. I take pictures of road signs and landmarks as we travel. It’s a photo diary, of sorts. I can look at a series of pictures and know when and where they were taken.  Over the years, I developed a system that works for me. Everyone has to find their own.

With all the classes, books, seminars, webinars, and online resources available to beginning genealogists they have the opportunity to do things the right way from the beginning. But, with the excitement of the chase, I imagine that they will make their share of the same mistakes.
I have lost four family members this past year. Never again can I ask “when did that happen,” or “who is in that picture.” I put off the DNA tests too long, and now it’s too late. So don’t wait to read “Eleven Things I Would Do Differently,” and put those steps into practice.  Don’t wait until you are rummaging in a box of papers and find an unidentified note on a napkin that you wrote years ago that will, once and for all, answer the question you didn’t know needed answering when you wrote the note on the napkin.

By the way, Poppy was in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, at the same time as Emmett Dalton, after he was released from prison. I haven’t found the Indian princess.

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