Generational Tag Team: Practical tips for working together on your genealogical research

Generational Tag Team: Practical tips for working together on your genealogical research

This is a guest post by Kimberley Fowler, a Canadian writer and editor dedicated to improving seniors’ lives through education, activism, volunteerism and community programs. She is an active volunteer in many local community organizations. Kimberley earned a Master of Arts in English Literature and Language (University of Windsor), an Honours Bachelor of Arts (Wilfrid Laurier University) and a Bachelor of Education (University of Toronto). 

Genealogical projects are a great way to bring older adults and youth together. Genealogy does more than offer an additional topic of conversation or shared point of interest for grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. Sharing the challenge of unearthing your family roots together forces your family to work as a team – and working together gives you the benefits of a team experience: a sense of camaraderie, the highs of a “win” when you find another piece of your shared puzzle, and a sense of accomplishment when you overcome roadblocks together. In fact, other than a tragic event, not much will bring your family closer, or challenge your family in the same way as a genealogical project.

So, if you’re interested in genealogy, consider involving your children and/or grandchildren. Together, your shared skills will help you explore your family tree more fully and completely than possible on your own. Here’s how:

  1. Identify family photos

There are some tasks that you’ll be better suited to and some that are better given to younger family members. Going through old family photos and identifying each person in the photo is an important task that only you will be able to do accurately.

  1. Document dates of importance

This is another task that an older family member will need to start. It’s important to document all known important dates for the people in your family tree, including:

  • Births
  • Marriages
  • Divorces
  • Deaths
  • Adoptions
  • Immigration
  • Change of addresses
  • Religious events (i.e., baptisms)
  • Legal transactions
  • Job history including dates of retirement.

You won’t know all this information for each ancestor, but once you’ve created an initial list based on your own knowledge, your family can work together to fill in the holes. Documenting as many important dates as you can, will help you better understand the life story of each person in your family tree. Use the information that you do know to help guide your investigation and direct you where to look next for more information.

  1. Internet advanced searches

When researching your family tree, you’ll inevitably get to a point where the basic Internet search options no longer yield results. Ask your children or grandchildren to help with advanced search options. You may find that your Internet-savvy family members can yield some surprising results with advanced search tricks.

  1. Road trip

Explore local resources like libraries, county archives, historical societies and even graveyards in and around your area and the known areas of your ancestors. These family road trips can be fun and fruitful for your genealogical research.

  1. Family trip

Your genealogical research may take you beyond the borders of your city, county, state or country. Consider the benefits of exploring your family history overseas with a family trip. The memories you make will last a lifetime, and the information you find could lead you down new roads of research and even to long-lost family members.

A long-term, team approach

When you’re working alongside your children or grandchildren, it’s important to keep in mind each person’s interests, goals, motivations, and strengths. Any genealogical project will be a long-term endeavor, so it’s important to keep each other motivated and interested in the project over time.

Also, keep in mind your children/grandchildren’s availability. School breaks and summer holidays are a good time to plan to work through some of the tasks on your to-do list. As younger family members begin jobs or move on to college, their availability may become limited. During these points, continue on your own and keep your team members up-to-date on your progress. These updates are great talking points and will help you remain close as time passes.

Ultimately, working together on your family’s history should be fun and bring your family closer together. When enjoying each other’s company and spending time together becomes your main priority, any information you find as a result of your genealogical inquiry will be an added bonus.