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The Essential Genealogist Toolkit
I recently read a blog from one of my favourite Geneabloggers, Theresa, who was describing her favourite places, tools, and people who she uses for her genealogy journey. She referred to it as her toolkit or those essential things that one needs when digging into their ancestors’ lives. I thought today I would share with you my own essential tool kit for the genealogist and help hopefully inspire you to use some or all these tools to help you on the way to preserving your family history and creating a legacy for those who come after you.
Remember that your ancestors count on you to remember them. You’re the one in the family who has chosen to be the family historian, so it’s up to you to tell their stories. I like this quote – a Chinese proverb
to forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source or a tree without roots.
We all need to know where we’ve come from, and I believe that as a genealogist, we all need to build a personal genealogy network; these tips and tools and tool kits, and resources that I’m going to talk about today will form the basis of your very own personal genealogy network.
There are four elements to the personal genealogy network. In my opinion, there may be others that you might think of along the way, but I broadly categorised them into four segments, one for the tool kits, the technology, and other tools that you use for your genealogy journey. The next category is resources. Huge amount of resources there for the family, historian, and genealogist lots to share. I’ve only picked out a few of those because I don’t want to overwhelm those who are just starting. But you will need a set of resources to help you on your journey.
The next segment or element are the communities of genealogists around the world who are there to support you, to give you advice and possibly to teach you how to do your research or storytelling. There are many communities, and they exist in many different places, so I’ll pick out a few of those that you might want to find out more about in your local community so that you can draw upon them to help you with your genealogy journey, and the final segment of the personal genealogy network is perhaps the biggest is the reason that we do this.
We want to create and leave legacies for our family so the legacies can be in all different kinds You might be writing. You might be telling your story. Using your voice, you might be showing pictures or a combination of all three, so I’ll show you and share with you a few of my favourites in that category as well.
Firstly, let’s have a look at these genealogy tool kits. And in this first segment, I’m looking at those tools that will help you become a creative family historian. And these are at the very base level for beginners.
These are the things that you should consider having with you, so I’ve called them the basics. You’ll find that you’ll need to have a place to store and record the information that your research about your family, your ancestral files. Now these come in many different forms, and the one that I recommend is an ancestral file in a print format that you can fill in as you go. My favourite of these is called ancestral file, and I will add a link to that location to obtain that resource at the bottom of the video.
But you’ll need some form of file management system to help record the historical data that you are going to find about your ancestors.
The next part of your toolkit is your family tree. Now this might exist already in paper form might be written in a notebook in your family Bible, or it might already be an online family tree that you’ve constructed using any of the tools that are available to do that. But a family tree is a basic tool that you’ll need to help make sense of and define the family groups that you research and discover and understand the relationships between the people on your family tree stretching back into your great great greats.
And finally, in The Basics Toolkit, you’ll need a set of research tools. Some of those tools are available to you online so you can be a genealogist from your desk from your armchair or anywhere in your own home. Using the Internet, you’ll need your research tools to find the documents that helped prove that your ancestors lived, and you will also need research tools to help reveal the ancestors that are related to them. We all talk about searching for vital documents, birth, marriage, and death certificates, so you need some tools to help you locate those.
You don’t have to go to a physical location, but if you are near one, then I would advise you might like to start there. So these are the basic tools that you’ll need to have in your genealogist toolkit
In Part B. I’ve included some toolkit items that I’ve put under the heading of educational support. I think it’s so important that you are supported during this journey because it is a large project to undertake online. You’ll find many different classes, lessons, and methods of skill development for your genealogy learning.
I’m doing a couple for myself right now in November 2022 in the past I have done many others, some lasting for a few weeks, some for several years. Finding the right type of learning tool and learning management system can be a little daunting, so I’ll add a couple of my favourites to the links at the bottom of the video. The next in your genealogy toolkit will be all about networking. If you are not yet on social media, I suggest that you start by finding genealogy media, and social media groups on places like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You don’t have to post there, but you will find it useful to join those groups and learn from the people who frequently post about their achievements, their brick walls, and their recommendations for other tools that you might like to use. So don’t forget that networking is part of your toolkit. You don’t have to do it all alone. And of course, apart from social media groups, you do have your family members. And if you’re lucky enough to have the elders still with you, then they will form part of your genealogy network as well.
Next, you will find many kinds of communities online and in person, and you will find that being part of a community will help you to take your journey, your research, and your storytelling to the next level. It will help step you out of your impostor syndrome if you like. I don’t know how to do this. I am no good at this. You’ll find that being part of a community will help boost your morale and will help support you in your journey. Don’t forget that there are many places that you can go for conferencing in the world of genealogy as well.
And many of these conferences are now available to you online, and there are a couple of coming up. Soon I’ll put links to those at the bottom of the video as well. So these come under the heading of educational support as part of your genealogist toolkit. Next, I have raised the issue of the professionals and how they play an important role in being part of your Personal Genealogy Network. I’m looking at the many genealogy reference websites, to find the programs and the essential guides for helping you with any part of your genealogy journey.
Next, you have a wealth of genealogy presenters out there. We’ll find them on YouTube. You’ll find them in Webinars. You’ll find them in live casts popping up out of the blue, sometimes on Facebook, and so on, and you’ll find many of our genealogy experts and people like me who are keen enthusiasts who will also share videos with you. So, look for those genealogy presenters in any of your resources online. If you don’t yet have a subscription to a YouTube channel, I’ll give you a couple of those at the end of the video to another great source of information.
Strategies and stories from Genealogists are through the genealogy blogs. We refer to those who blog about genealogy as Geneabloggers. And have you put a simple search into Google for Geneabloggers? You’ll come up with a wealth of those. Add them to your toolkit. You will find that it’s useful to go to their website or their blog and read what they have been doing. They often share their steps in their journey, and they will share the stories of their family with you. That gives you an idea of how you might approach your storytelling.
Next, we have a set of resources that I put under the heading of genealogy subscription databases. You will have heard many people talk about places like ancestry before, find my past and my heritage are to others. These are the three big ones, but there are many others that you can research to find out about. I use all three of these. I have a British family background, and using FindMyPast is essential to that. In Ancestry, I find that I can find out more about those who have ancestors from the United States. On the My Heritage site, there are some great functionality tools for enhancing your ancestral photos. Go there and have a look at those. These are the subscription ones, so it will cost you to use them. You can have a free one for a couple of weeks, but then you’ll be asked to subscribe, and they come in various price categories so choose the one that suits your budget.
Next, I have a set of technology tools that I am using and find essential for organising my genealogy research. The first one that I’ll mention is Trello, and this tool helps me to plan and plot how I’m going to research my ancestors and what stories I’m going to include in my blog posts.
And I do all that using what is called a Trello board, which is a great way to visualise and plot and plan and to share with your other family members to see if they’d like to contribute. So have a look for Trello dot com. You can use this one for free.
The next one is Evernote. This is my favourite tool for recording the data that I have researched. I may have obtained a set of transcripts from various searches that I’ve done for my family members over and find my past. I can copy the transcript and paste into Evernote. I create a note for each ancestor and include those in notebooks for each family group. I love using Evernote for clipping things from newspaper items as well so that I can add them directly to Evernote from websites.
Third, in this grouping of technology tools is Google docs. Don’t overlook this free service from Google. You’ll find a great idea to create a set of folders for your family groupings, maybe colour, code them for ease of identification, and then upload any files that you want to share with others or simply create a set of records about your family history.
I am very fond of writing historical stories about my ancestors, some based on facts, and many based on fiction. I use a variety of tools to do this, and you can choose one of these as one of your essential toolkit items. Word or Google docs for the writing of each story will be a great way for you to start writing up and sharing family history with others. You can write in Word and then upload to Google if you wish, or write it directly into a Google doc. They’re very simple to use, and most people have these already on their computers.
The next way of telling a story is a method that you might use if you want to use your voice. Zoom is a great tool for doing this. You can set up your zoom room as I’ve done today and record directly to your computer. You could be telling the story of your family member, and you could be showing images of them, as I am doing here using my set of slides. Once you’ve finished the recording, you will have an MP 4 file that you can share by perhaps uploading to YouTube or sending it directly into your Google drive.
The third method is one that I have been using more frequently of late. For all my writing, it’s called Dabblewriter, and it’s a tool that you can use to not only write the stories but to plot them and create chapters within a book. And you can create many projects, and each of your projects might be named after a family group. The beauty of using Dabblewriter is the way in which it allows you to organise what you have written. You can move your chapters around and you can make notes as you go. And finally, you can export the entire set of chapters as a book. Export it as a word document. This is ideal if you’re going to self-publish these stories that you’ve written, so either one of those is a really great tool for telling your stories.
Finally, if you are an Australian genealogist, you may find these three types of resources beneficial. The first one is Trove. This is a collection of historical Australian newspapers that you can search through using the names of your ancestors. It focuses on the many different old newspapers that we had in Australia in each state of Australia from the earliest times of newspaper production.
If you’re really delving deeper into those newspaper items and looking for death notices the Ryerson index is another great tool for you to use. It is s an index that you can use to find the death notices that might have appeared in Australian newspapers. This one will save you heaps of time.
And if you are like many people wanting to find out if you have convicts in your ancestral line, then you can go to the many different resources that include convict records. So there’s one that I will give you a link to in the notes below this video that allows you to search the British Convict Transportation Register for convicts who were transported to Australia between 1787 and 1867. You’ll find a wealth of information there of a historical nature as well.
Next, we have a group of resources that I’ve called genealogy communities. I’ve got three of them here, but I’m sure you can think of others first. The social media groups there are genealogists who frequent the Facebook and Twitter groups and talk about their genealogy journeys. So if you want to find out if there’s a group located near you. Just put a search field into Facebook or Twitter to find those communities.
Some are private and some are public. Some ask you to answer questions to get in, but most of them will be the best resource for you to ask questions and see if someone else has got the answer that you need or is struggling with the same type of problem.
Then you have all the family history societies that you may have in your local communities and online. There are many of these, and you might even subscribe to their newsletters as a way of giving up-to-date information on a regular basis and coming straight to your email inbox.
Finally, in this group, there are associations and organisations. You might want to become a professional genealogist and there are many of those available, some of whom will provide you with courses where you can learn how to be a professional genealogist.
You can also subscribe to organisations who provide magazines on genealogy, print-based and online, and you can subscribe to them to have them sent to your house or read online I find the family history magazines a wonderful resource in which I’m immersed in my genealogy community. It’s a really good read, something to look forward to each month or some of them come every two months. So don’t forget these genealogy communities can be your lifelong friends and help you on your journey.
Finally, I’ll come to a segment where I’ve included a set of things that come under the heading of genealogy legacies. This is the reason why we’re doing all this – the WHY – we want to leave something for the families and the people who come after us.
Most of my family history legacy is as written stories. I use blog posts and e-books for those, and I’m dabbling now in print books that I have published as a family history. So those written family histories are something that you might want to aspire to do. There’s a way of leaving the legacy for all those years and years of research that you’ve put in place for your family history. Other people like to do their legacy in a different format. Digital stories, for example, were very popular some years ago, and they are now becoming more popular again.
These are the short video type of stories told with someone’s voice, perhaps music in the background and images of their loved ones or scenes from their childhood, et cetera. These can be created with many different types of software. One of the easiest of those is PowerPoint. Others like to do podcasts, and some of our wonderful genealogy experts have their own podcast channels that you can listen to. I’ll add one or two of those at the end of this video.
Scrapbooking is another favourite occupation for some people. There are many companies out there that allow you to create your family history scrapbook with their templates. That’s a journey that you might like to go along if you have many photos and you want to present them as gifts for your family members. Especially now, as we’re coming up to Christmas, you might want to think about that as a unique Christmas gift. Consider the alternative types of albums and other ways that you might use your photographic histories and don’t discount the good old family history albums because these are the ones that you might share at Family reunions. People love looking back over time at those pictures that you’ve stored in their albums.
And finally, the printed records that you might have gathered may also be part of the legacy that you hand down to your family. Things like the pedigree charts that show the family from the Children through to the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. Branching out into the many different lines. Family group sheets, which note the parents’ birth, marriage, and death dates, names of their Children where they lived etcetera, census records, life stories, and ancestral cards.
All those wonderful snippets of information that you’ve gathered are forming part of the legacy that you will leave as part of your genealogy journey. There are so many ways we can do that, and even little posts every now and then on any of the social media tools are also effective. for sharing those stories or evidence of your research, very easily.
Finally, if you’d like to learn more about being a genealogist, how to research and how to tell your stories, or how to build your Personal Genealogy Network? I have an Academy, where you can come to learn all those things.
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I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief sojourn into the essential genealogy toolkit. You can view this as a Video from my YouTube Channel:
or listen to it on my Podcast Channel:
Bye for now.