Many thanks to National Genealogical Society President Jordan Jones for taking the time to answer our questions about conducting genealogical research.
FHD: What inspired you to become interested in genealogy originally?
I received genealogical information — a compiled family history, and an Antebellum family Bible — from older family members when I was 10. These piqued my interest.
FHD: What is the best way for new genealogists to dive into their family history? Where would you get started?
Start with what you know, and work backwards step-by-step. Do not skip generations and find records, where possible, to support each statement that could be true or false. Look for records as close as possible in time to the event in question, and as least likely to be attested to by people who would benefit from something less than the truth.
FHD: The genealogy landscape is changing rapidly. What’s your favorite new tech-based genealogy resource?
I am a big fan of Evernote. It’s a site and application designed to help you store everything of interest. In genealogy, it allows me to store an image of a record along with text I add as a citation of the source of this information. You can link between notes, share notes and notebooks via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail, and perform complex searches. It does optical character recognition and even makes modern handwriting searchable.
FHD: Do you think family history research can benefit our youth? Why?
Yes, it can give people a way to see the relevance of history, and to see how much better most people have things today. The average person in the early 1800s was slightly above a subsistence farmer, working incredibly long days to provide for their family.
FHD: Family History research is about so much more than just dates and names: in your opinion what is the best way to dig deeper into a family’s past?
Learn the setting your family lived in. That means you should learn the history, the laws, and the geography that affected your family and the records that document their lives.
FHD: What was your favorite genealogy moment in your own personal research?
Discovering in a county history that there was a murder mystery (still unsolved) in the family.
FHD: If you could travel to just one point in the past, when and where would it be?
July 1854, in order to understand whether my 3rd great grandmother was murdered, and if so, by whom, as well as to find out who her paramour (and my 3rd great grandfather) was.
FHD: What is your absolute best tip for:
- staying organized and storing data?
Only keep paper copies of original or irreplaceable records, or items that will not scan or photograph well enough. (It’s easy to be overwhelmed with paper copies of census records, for which one also has digital versions. The clutter can adversely affect your ability to see what’s in front of you.
- breaking down brick walls?
Research what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the “FAN club” — friends, associates, and neighbors. People often migrate together. Sometimes people mention family events for their friends in their personal letters and papers. There are a lot of reasons to follow the FAN club.
- getting family members to share stories?
Show them something you have produced, your existing family group sheets and pedigree charts, and especially tell them some stories about the family. Prepare (actually write down) specific questions to ask. You can get an oral history book to help think of some of these kinds of questions. If they like interacting with websites, you might set up an account for them at Proust.com.