You’ve hit a roadblock in your research. Not a huge one but a roadblock nonetheless.
So what is to be done? You could swear off doing genealogy ever again. You could take a breather from researching that person and turn your focus to someone else.
Or you could go back to the basics. I know these resources below aren’t new to many genealogists, but when you’re stumped it’s best to give them a try instead of doing nothing at all.
5 places to research when you are stumped
Post to Facebook groups. There is a group for everything! I belong to several genealogy groups ranging from research help to specific surnames to geographic areas. Whenever I need extra help I post a question to the appropriate group and within hours I have a new direction to research. The best part about this is you are collaborating with other genealogists and making new friendships. What can be better than that?
Google your ancestor. Confession: I don’t remember to do this for every person I’m researching but I really should. It really pays to google who you are researching. Let me give you an example.
I was researching Samuel P. Dinsmore, a distant cousin of mine. In Ancestry I was finding the usual suspects: census records, city directories, obituary index. I googled him to see what else I could find. Oh my gosh! I found a treasure trove of information! Samuel was the owner and editor of a newspaper based in New York City. The city would place ads in his paper. There was a dispute on the agreed upon price and Samuel and later his son Bryant W. Dinsmore would take the case all the way to the New York State Supreme Court. Online I was able to find the Court Case and the decision from the court. What a find!
Connect with distant relatives. You see the same trees over and over again that mirror and support your research. Why not reach out to that person and get to know a distant relative? They may have the key piece of information you have been looking for. If not, you at least get to know another relative! Not sure how to connect with a relative? Read this post. It’s a win for both of you!
Research newspaper articles. Websites like Newspapers.com or Genealogybank.com is a great way to potentially research your ancestor in the newspaper. While they are subscription sites you do get 7 days free. Utilize the free time! You might find an obituary notice or an article that mentions them. Either way, it deepens your knowledge about them.
Use Findagrave.com. I have a love hate relationship with Find a Grave. Sometimes you don’t find anything, sometimes you hit the mother load. So for that reason, it’s always worth it to research there.
What does this have to do with Storytelling?
Breaking through your road block leads to a deeper understanding of your ancestor. The more research you collect about an ancestor the richer and more meaningful your family story will be. Spend some time writing, video recording and sharing the information you have found.
I hope you aren’t stumped for too long. Enjoy your research journey.
Let me introduce you to one of my brick walls. His name is Chester Benjamin and he’s my great grandfather. I’ve been looking for a photo, a relative who knew him, anything for the last fifteen years. Researching his life became my mission. My great grandmother and her children are gone and my father only had a few stories to share. Curse you, brick walls!
Then one day, when I was least expecting it, a distant cousin posted his photo to her online tree. After doing a happy dance, I got down to business to contact this new cousin and thank her for the best gift anyone could have given me.
I used to think that researching my family tree was a solo pursuit. But it’s not. We rely on the research of others to corroborate our research, to confirm a family story and to share photos.
In other words, we need to know where to find distant cousins and we need to know what is the best way to contact them to get a response. So read on for my tips and tricks I learned along the way.
5 Places to find new relatives
Online family tree websites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and My Heritage. You’ve looked at the trees that others have built with your common last names. Why not reach out to them! I find it best to contact them via email if they listed that on their profile. If, not contact them through the message app. Make sure that you list your email address in the profile so that relatives can reach out to you.
Bonus tip: Upload your GEDCOM file to other family tree websites. This will help you reach more relatives. This article lists a number of places to upload your tree.
Test your DNA and tie your results to your online tree. Since I was tested a number of years ago, that is the way I have been connecting with relatives.
Facebook. Chances are you are already on Facebook and connected to some family. Have you found that a family member you are connected to is friends with a relative that you were not aware of? Ask that person to introduce you.
Bonus Tip: Join a Facebook group specific to your surname or start your own!
Join GenealogyWise. Genealogy Wise is a social network for genealogists. Like Facebook, you can connect with people and post research questions
Go to family reunions.If you can’t go, hold a virtual reunion over Zoom, Google Meet or Skype. Don’t forget to talk about family history and take notes!
Ok, so you know where to find them. But what should you say when you reach out to them? Don’t worry, I have that covered too.
4 tips on emailing your new found family members
Use a warm and friendly tone, but be specific in your email. You don’t want your message to sound like an excited fan, or be misinterpreted as demanding. You also don’t want to ramble. Be warm and friendly, but get to the point of why you contacted them. Still not sure? My scripts will show you how.
Give a gift. If you are asking someone you never met to share information with you, you need to be willing to share first. I normally share something I don’t have online after the introductory email I send. I want them to be comfortable sharing information and know that I’m not going to use them.
What happens if you don’t get a response?
Email or leave a message again. It wouldn’t hurt to contact them again. Maybe the first message wasn’t received.
No response? Don’t get too discouraged. I know this is easier said than done. I know that you are eager to hear from them and exchange information. There can be many reasons you didn’t hear from them. I’ve seen issues ranging from not seeing the message to not having time to research genealogy to not interested in sharing information.
Remember not everyone is into genealogy. This one hurts. How can anyone not be into genealogy? Sadly, it’s true. Some people are just interested in learning about their ethnicity. Look to see if your new found relative has a tree attached to their dna. This clue might help in knowing the likeliness for their response.
How does this tie into storytelling?
Your new found relative can lead to new family stories you never heard of.
They can potentially confirm or deny the authenticity of family stories you’ve heard.
They may have access to more photos, documents and information that you don’t have.
They can help you write family stories from their perspective. Plus it’s always more fun to work with someone rather than alone!
Need some help?…Use My Email Scripts
I’ve created a few scripts you can use to help you craft your initial email to your new family members.
I write excruciatingly slow. Why? Because I am a professional procrastinator. I have a horrible habit of writing a few sentences, only to get up to refill my coffee cup, then sit back down to write again, only to get back up within a few minutes.
Why do I do this every time I write?
overwhelmed by how by the writing process
uncertain on where to start
awkward and shy about your writing skills
anxious about being judged
there isn’t anything interesting to write about. My family was just an average, ordinary family.
What do all these excuses have in common? Fear. Fear leads to procrastination. It is fear that holds us back.
Moving past fear is hard. Really hard.
I know. I have let fear control my actions for too long. For example, I delayed as long as I could naming both my children. I finally relented when a nurse threatened not to release me from the hospital until I completed the birth certificate. In my defense, I wanted to be absolutely certain that the names were the right ones for them.
Don’t be like me.
Take a moment to identify the fear that is holding you back. When you have identified it, you can create a plan to move past it.
The easiest way I have found to combat fear is to take action. Any forward momentum is better than standing still. Start small.
If you are overwhelmed
Start by writing what is overwhelming you, much like a brain dump. From that, create a list and put the lists in order that makes sense for you. Create a plan from your lists. Only focus on one item at a time.
This is what I did.
I wanted to focus on family members that I had numerous photos of. I started with the list of their names. I prioritized that list in order of how much info I had on each person. Under each person’s name I jotted down things I wanted to write about. Since I prioritized my list, I only focused on the one individual instead of the whole family.
If you are uncertain and don’t know where to start
Start with the person you know the most about. That could be you, a spouse, sibling or parents. Jot down whatever comes to mind about that person. Later you can fill in with sentences and structure.
If you feel awkward about your writing ability
Get clear on why you want to write and share your family stories. Returning to your why will help when you feel awkward and shy.
Your writing style won’t be judged. Why? Because the reader’s attention will be on the family story rather than on your writing ability. Keep the goal in mind: getting the stories written and out there.
If you are afraid of being judged by your family
You don’t have to tell anyone what you’re doing. Overtime, the more you write the more confident you will get.
When you are ready, tell a trusted family member.
If you think your family is just an average ordinary family
Remember: Not every family story is going to be filled with action, adventure, comedy, romance and drama. Sometimes stories are just about ordinary people living their lives. Tell these stories anyway.
The ordinary story allows us to compare and contrast to how we live today. That is how we learn to relate to our family.
So your homework for today, identify what is holding you back from writing and telling your family stories. Then create a plan to move past that fear. This is your time to get the stories told.
Genealogists are thrill seekers. Who else would enjoy piecing together a brittle yellow page from a dusty old scrapbook just so you can determine once and for all if the entry is really about your ancestor? Or the research high you got when you went line-by-line trying to decipher cursive handwriting from an ancestor’s will and you found that crucial missing link? Or what about that time you spent until 2AM researching online when you swore you would only spend 5 more minutes before going to bed? Yes, we are thrill seekers–the nerdy kind.
But doing research is only half the story. The other half is telling the story from that research. Author and researcher, Brene Brown, reminds us that stories are data with soul. We do our ancestors a disservice if all we focus on is only on their birth, marriage and death dates and let their stories perish.
Be open to the idea of not just collecting their information, but telling their story.
5 Reasons Why you need to take time to Write your Family’s Story
Your family’s stories may be lost forever. Think about it. How many of your relatives are interested in doing genealogy? If it’s like my family you only have a few. Now of those few, how many are willing to take the time to record the stories? I thought so. You need to be that one. Start today.
Writing your story is a gift to yourself and future generations. This goes hand in hand with number one. If you write your family story, you can enjoy it and add it to your research. Others can add it to their research as well. Your family will live on!
People are looking for meaning and connection. Don’t be fooled by the sound bite culture we live in. People are craving connections and meaningful relationships. You can provide that by taking the time to write the stories that make your family unique. Then share them through email, Facebook or blogging. They will discover that they aren’t the only ones who faced similar situations.
Every life has a story. I cannot tell you how many times, I’ve heard, “My family isn’t special. Nothing interesting happened.” Not every story you write will be filled with action, adventure, romance and drama. Some stories are the quiet character dramas. Even if it’s not interesting to you, it will be to someone. Tell their story anyway.
You may inspire someone! Once you have captured the story, don’t forget to share it. It is in sharing that your ancestor will live on. Who knows, you may inspire some one to write or become a genealogist.
Whatever your reason, I hope you take time to write.