By Conrad Stoesz, archivist at the Centre for MB Studies
Who am I? Do you ever ask yourself that question? Part of the answer includes where you came from—not only your past but your family’s past. It is one of those things we cannot choose but are given, so why not find out more!
Where to start
Start simple. List when and where you were born. Then list when and where your parents and grandparents were born. At your next family gathering, take the opportunity to ask some questions of your relatives. In many families, there is that one “crazy” aunt or uncle who has done some family research, or is the keeper of the family story. No gatherings planned? Consider contacting family by phone or email to get the information you’re looking for.
Document your sources
As you gather materials, be sure to document where your information is coming from. List the source (book, interview, document etc.) and where that source is. If it is an interview or conversation, document the date as well. You will be surprised how easy it is to forget where some information came from and trust me, there will be a point when you ask yourself, “Now how do I know that?” Or “Yes I saw that somewhere—but where!?” Listing your sources is crucial.
As you are doing your research, you may want to create a family tree—a visual representation of you and your direct ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.). Think of this tree as a skeleton. To bring it to life you need stories. These can be family traditions, supporting documents, obituaries, photos, books, articles, etc.
Keep hard copies
As people amass materials, some look for help in organizing and sharing their results beyond a three-ringed binder. There are web sites and computer programs that can help you. But these e-resources should be seen as a tool, not a replacement for keeping your hard copy information. There is something special about holding grandpa’s birth certificate or great aunt Helen’s favorite, and badly stained cook book. Computer files get corrupted, hard drives crash, files get accidentally deleted, web site memberships lapse but the hard copy is more secure.