Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shout It from the Roof Top

Last week I found myself driving to Wildwood, New Jersey. Wildwood is a resort town on the ocean at the very southern tip of New Jersey. It's a 6-7 hour drive from my home in Boston. I had never been there before but I heard that it's a fairly quiet place in the wintry cold of February.

Before making the trip I happened to send an email to my uncle about my plans. He replied back to say that my great Uncle Chris and great Aunt Louise had been married in Wildwood in the 1930s! I had no idea.

While I like to think that my brain is an endless repository of family history information, the truth is I can't always recall every detail off the top of my head. I checked my Legacy database and lo and behold there they were being married in Wildwood on August 12, 1937. Suddenly my trip to New Jersey took on new intrigue. A family event happened there and I needed to pay more attention.

While researching family history is often a solitary event, in a broader view our work can't be done in isolation. Without the help of others we will never be able to find results as quickly or as thoroughly.

It's important to let others - particularly relatives and old family friends - know that you are doing family history research. You will be surprised at the changes and results that come your way. Some family members, like my uncle, will have your back and alert you to relevant family information. These kind of informants are critical because there's no way you will be able to keep track of everything.

Many of your relatives won't be interested in family history at all. But that's ok. These are the ones who will pass on family photos, documents and heirlooms when they no longer want to store them in their attics and basements. While they may not care about family history, these folks will feel guilty about tossing anything out when they know there is an acting family historian. Bring on the guilt and let them pass everything to you!

The more you let people know you are the family historian (not just once - remind them at least once a year), the more likely you will amass a collection of the photos and information your are looking for. While you probably won't shout it from every roof top, do make sure you let people know. It will make all the difference in your research.

Photo Credit: photo by Horia Varlan and used under the creative commons license.


  1. Marian,

    Welcome to (almost) my neck of the woods. A group of my ancestors were in that area. Love the shore. Cape May, next town south, is almost as nice as Cape Cod.

    I learned a trick at RootsTech 2012, that I am working on, to get family members to provide me with information. I lost a two cousins (my generation) to an accident and cancer, but I am contact with their children through FB. So, since they are on FB, I am working on WikiTree to see if they, the FB generation, can provide me with information about themselves and children that I don't have.


  2. Marian - Excellent article! My family knows that I work on family history but I really need to remind them from time to time!


  3. I've had an idea for some genealogy software that I have yet to find out in the world and this post reminded me of it again. I would like to be able to type in my location and destination (like in mapquest or a GPS) and it pulls up a list of genealogical events from my family tree that happened near or on my route. If I had a dollar for every time I learned after the fact, that I had been near something of genealogical interest to me, I would be maybe a dozen dollars richer and had more insight to my family tree than I do now.

  4. Ed, that sounds like a perfect idea for the developer app challenge for RootsTech 2013!

  5. Marian - you were in my husband's family's neck of the woods. I'm doing my best to get more familiar with Cape May County records.

    I also like Ed's idea. I was in Morristown, N.J. a couple of summers ago and got to see some old family homes, but didn't realize that ancestors were buried in a cemetery that we likely drove past!

  6. Marian: what?! You were traveling somewhere for reasons other than genealogy?! ;)

    You have a good point about letting everyone know. The more people heard about my research, the more stuff came out of the woodwork and into my possession! Whether for guilt or for the relief of finally finding someone who would appreciate all that "junk," I don't know. I prefer thinking of my relatives in that latter frame of mind. I know I feel better about entrusting my possessions into the hands of someone I know who will appreciate them. It's the getting-to-knowing that's the challenge.

  7. Marian, the several funerals this year of my elderly first cousins has helped me get closer to their children as well. They ALL know that I'm doing genealogy in the family and would love to see photos, talk with them, and more. Unfortunately at my age, I'm getting slim pickings from these various cousins. I'm always happy to see younger people in my Beginner classes in genealogy - they can actually talk with their grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles.
    Ed's idea for an app is fabulous!