Today’s beginning family history researcher has many web references at his disposal — some of which I will likely add to my collection of family research tools. But, when I began my family history research back in the 1990’s, it was completely analog. I learned to start with what I knew. In my case, it was the birthdates (including year) of both parents — as well as the names of the city or town of their birth.
Constructing my first pedigree chart was easy because it included my parents in position 1. The family group sheet proved to be another useful reference. I quickly learned the importance of keeping both of these reports updated as soon as new data was discovered. After I had wrestled every shred of information from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) entries of all my known ancestors, I began working my way back through the generations with the help of pedigree charts and family group sheets.
Before long, I added another tool to my ancestor detective arsenal: the US Census. I silently gazed into many a microfiche screen, scrolling to find a PALMER or MABLE surname. And when I found my mother (Floreta [sic] MABLE) at age 4 on the 1920 census (extract), that silence was grotesquely broken by the loudest gasp I’ve ever made. All eyes on the second floor of the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research turned to me. Of course I was embarrassed at making such a noise in the library. But that embarrassment quickly subsided as the looks of amusement on the patrons’ and staff’s faces assured me that I was not the first to pierce the quietness in such a manner. I can’t help but wonder if my grandparents dressed their little girls up for the census. Taking care to make a good presentation is consistent with the customs of the era (1920) — when children were “to be seen and not heard”. It could also be a “Sunday Best” portrait.
The way I found out about all these tools was from the genealogy books I purchased. Many of them remain in my collection today. I quickly learned that many of the references mentioned in the first books I used did not apply to African-American genealogy. Because our history includes obstacles that are not covered in mainstream genealogy books, I found two books in particular to be of tremendous help in getting me started — to the point of finding the first slaveholder of my maternal line. They are Black Roots by Tony Burroughs and Finding a Place Called Home by Dee Parmer Woodtor. AA genealogy continues to be an exciting discovery.
Early on, I selected a genealogy software program which I still use today. I’m happy with my selection of Legacy Family Tree as the software to manage my research. With each upgrade (or discovery of a new type of data to track) I have taken advantage of software comparisons; and I’ve come away with LFT every time.
The web has many useful tools that will compliment my documented research. I have identified a few sites with reliability potential. But I am grateful to have learned genealogy before it became a popular past-time in cyberspace. Care must be taken before adding online findings in with documented data you have painstakingly obtained from county records. My aim is to make online researchers aware of offline resources. I believe them to be more reliable.