Numerous U.S. states, including Massachusetts, recognize October as Family History Month. Plan ahead before Thanksgiving and the winter holidays give you ample opportunities to interview family members, share stories, and identify photographs together. Here are some guidelines to help you make the most of your time.
1. If you’re new to genealogical research, learn the basics before you visit Great Aunt Bertha. Bring along a pedigree chart and family group records to put your research in perspective and to provide an overview of vital record facts.
2. Create a family photo book to give visual prompts to potential storytellers. You may even want to purchase a handheld scanner to collect images from relatives. Once you’ve collected a bunch of digital images, organize the photos in such a way that you know the subjects, the time period, and who you scanned the images from.
3. Do you have any questions based on details from birth, marriage, and death records you’ve found, like why were those specific witnesses chosen to sign the marriage certificate? Or what’s the relationship between the deceased and the death certificate’s informant? Write down your list of questions and bring along the vital records for backup.
4. Do you have newspaper clippings with fascinating tidbits of sports records, school achievements, injuries and accidents, social outings, court proceedings, wedding announcements, retirement parties, obituaries, church meetings, reunions, and the like? Bring copies to share so you can get the full story.
5. Have you found your family on the 1940 census? Although copying the census pages may be unwieldy, consider bringing along your laptop with the census images already saved. People like to see themselves in historical records. You could learn about the home they lived in, who lived with them, what jobs they had, who the neighbors were, and more.
6. Did your relatives live through big, historical events like President Kennedy’s assassination or the Blizzard of 1978? Ask them what they remember of the event to put their lives in historical perspective.
7. Have you found a troubling pattern of illnesses and causes of death? Consider putting together a family health pedigree and asking your family for input.
Make the most of your family time. Be prepared. Know what you want to learn. Bring images and records to serve as prompts. See where the path leads. You may be surprised.
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