There is never enough time to achieve everything we would like in our family history. In the rush to find new information, sometimes critical activities get forgotten. So, at least once a year, it is important to take stock and check that we have not missed anything important, to consider what we now need to do what is important and to make New Year resolutions to work on our family history in a smarter way, and to have fun while we are doing it — otherwise what’s the point?
Below is our list of 10 family history activities that you should make sure to do annually, if not more frequently!
- Share what you have found. Much of the pleasure of family history research happens when you share it with family members. Sharing encourages other family members to share their own documents and information. If they see that their children or parents are missing from a chart, or perhaps have a missing detail such as a birth date, they will usually offer this additional information. Sharing information is often the best way to encourage others to share their information with you. Have an online family site? Consider inviting relatives as members of your site (all you need is their name and email) which allows them to view your discoveries. For older family members who may be less comfortable with online sites, print out a family chart and then visit them to talk about it. This is a great way to pick up new family stories. Don’t forget to add photo images for as many people as possible on the family tree as this makes the tree both easier to understand and more attractive. Use privacy settings to determine access given to others.
- Check out your Smart Matches and Record Matches. If you have your family tree on MyHeritage or use our Family Tree Builder software, see Smart Match alerts when someone in your tree appears to match a person in another MyHeritage user tree. See Record Matches where MyHeritage has identified a historical record that appears to be related to a person in your tree. That record means you might be able to add new, relevant data to your tree with minimal effort. Make sure to regularly check these alerts, so the numbers do not become unmanageable. These alerts often contain information which can be easily added to your tree, so it is worth reviewing these suggestions at least once a year or more frequently. Why miss out on a quick hit when MyHeritage’s innovative technology has done most of the hard work.
- Check what’s new. MyHeritage, like other major data providers, regularly adds new datasets to its collection, and continually updates other datasets. It’s easy to miss when new datasets are added, so go to our blog at https://blog.myheritage.com and select the category of Historical Records to see posts on new major collections. Look through the summaries of these major collections to see those that are relevant. For example, we’ve just added a new index to New York City Marriages (1950-1995). Other datasets continue to grow and are regularly updated. You may want to take some names from some of your lines that are particularly challenging and use SuperSearch to check them. You may be pleasantly surprised to you find new records that are they were in a new or updated collection. Don’t forget that there are many datasets added on other sites every day (both fee and free) that may be relevant to your search.
- Visit an archive. Despite the billions of historical records on MyHeritage, and the vast quantities of online records at other sites, there are far more records relevant to family historians that have never been digitized. Many records are only in archives. Sometimes family researchers need to access those records to learn more. While many archives have digitized their records – and continue to do this – there are still fewer records digitized and online than those on paper or microfilm. Sometimes, you can hire an independent researcher, or the archive may charge a fee to conduct research for you. However, if travel to the archive is reasonable, it can be more efficient, effective and rewarding to conduct research yourself at the archive. Visiting an archive can be rewarding and enjoyable, so plan a visit in the new year.
- Backup your data. It is important to regularly backup your online tree and to also have backup copies of all family history documents. This data should be stored in different locations than where your main documents and data are stored. Digital copies of documents should be stored elsewhere. If you have not been backing up, consider yourself fortunate that you have not already experienced a data or document loss. If your tree is on MyHeritage, a monthly service is available to backup family tree data, photos, videos, and documents. If you use Family Tree Builder, create a single-user private MyHeritage site and keep a copy of your tree online, and then use the backup service to back up your family tree. Before you backup your data, run consistency checks for duplicates and deceased individuals. These can all be run from Family Tree Builder if it is linked and synced to your online tree.
- Work to find one key missing item of information. Most of us have a branch of our tree which we would like to take back further. However, we are missing some vital information to make progress. Don’t try to do your whole tree at once – just pick one missing bit of information and focus on finding it. For example, you may have details of your paternal grandfather and may want to trace back additional generations of your surname. You will need to find the names of the parents, especially the father, of your paternal grandfather. Write down everything you know that might be relevant (e.g., when and where your grandfather was born, any information about his siblings, when and where your grandfather married). Then investigate what sources are likely to contain this information. For example, your grandfather’s parents might be named on your grandfather’s birth record, or a baptism record, or in his marriage record. Perhaps they are all named in a census or in a family tree compiled by another family historian. Determine which of these sources are likely to be available, how easy it might be to access, how likely it is that this source has the information you want, and how reliable the record might be. In this case, the most appropriate record to target could well be your grandfather’s birth record and then focus on obtaining that document.
- Digitize. During the year, we may accumulate many photos (loose or in albums), correspondence, certificates and other documents. We put them aside, telling ourselves that we will deal with it later. However, if you have not been regularly digitizing and entering the information, now is the best time to do that, before the backlog gets even worse. Digitize the photos and upload copies to your online family site. Key information about each photo or document can then be added for each item and link the digital image to the correct individual in your tree.
- Check your DNA results for new matches. When we first receive our DNA results, it is natural to check to whom we are closely related. However, as the pool of tested individuals increases, it becomes important to regularly check for new matches. Also, check to see if previous matches – that did not appear relevant before – now have new significance with new names and information. Increasingly, combining DNA testing with traditional family history research can verify or disprove assumed relationships in your family tree. So if you have not tested your DNA, a MyHeritage DNA Test may be something to consider.
- Make your family history New Year resolution. Many of us make one or several New Year resolutions at this time of year. So, once a year, consider making a resolution that will improve your genealogy habits. It could be “I will digitize and enter documents on the day I receive them,” or perhaps “I will include a source, description and entry reason for each image or item of information that I enter.”
- Have fun and meet up with your relatives. Most important – have fun. Meet up at a large family reunion or just visit an elderly relative or take advantage of a seasonal family party. Don’t forget to take along a printout of your family tree chart and lots of photos to stimulate family memories. Make sure that the free MyHeritage app is on your mobile phone or tablet – so you can capture and share family photos right from your device, and so you can capture, in their own words, someone telling a family history story.