Life doing family history, is somewhat like solving mysteries except in family history each solution opens up at least two more questions—two more parents to find—or three more—an event, a place, a date—or four and more and more—siblings, in-laws, changed locations and dates. There are always challenges, questions and doubts, but there are also solutions, answers and assurance.
And there is always more to do.
Family historians start by collecting all the information already available about their ancestors and arranging it according to an organizational pattern that fits their style so later they can keep track of hundreds of names. It is sometimes difficult to make the transition between collecting previously gathered collections (from Aunt Edith, the family history internet sites, the journals and magazines) and doing original research where the historian gathers information from original sources (certificates, church records, census records, vital records and original family records such as the family bible and grave stones).
One of the complicated parts of this shift is choosing the family line on which you will work. I remember the day I finished looking for family group sheets in the Church Family History Center with its stacks of heavy binders. I had been working towards that day for several years; having gathered all the information I could from other extended family members and I was ready to choose a line and start doing some actual take-a-name-to-the-temple research. I looked through my charts, chose one and walked over to a ask one of the genealogists what I should do to start working on the line in England I had chosen. He took one look at my chart then smiled and said, “Choose another line.”
Not what I’d expected.
There are several factors to consider when you are
choosing a line on which to work.
*How much skill do you have as a researcher?
*How much time do you have to devote to a project? Routine research does not require
the attention span and retention of facts that more elaborate projects demand.
*Your temperament. Do you thrive on challenges
or need immediate success to keep you
interested in a project?
*How far back have the lines been completed?
The closest lines chronologically are often the easiest lines on which you can find records—or not. If other family members have done extensive work and have not been able to find information, it is obviously not going to be easy for you to find it. If you are a convert or the first one looking, your problem is more likely finding the time to record and organize the information than to find it!
*Don’t just assume that a line will be hard or
easy because of the date when the last names have been added as indicated by the time the temple work was done. Try to see if there is another reason why line has not been extended. Reason vary widely: Was the person an emigrant with records in a foreign language? Was a second and third wife or a childless neglected in favor of as first wives. In many cases a researcher must choose which line to follow and ignore others because of time restraints. Does a “side” line need attention? There are reasons beside a lack of information that may effect whether research is completed on a specific line.
*Are there records in the area where your
It only takes one fire, one misplaced record book, or one earthquake to destroy the records for an individual or a family. Areas ravaged by war, floods and hurricanes may lose extensive amounts of personal and historical records with the damage made more devastating by the fact that many records from the same area, including some that would have contained duplicate information, were destroyed. Those helpful secondary sources are not available to fill in missing material. If records are missing or are difficult to find it might be wise to consider your experience and choose accordingly.
*Is there a line where your ancestors lived close
enough to your home that you can
visit it frequently? Being able to visit—and revisit—and revisit—the area you are researching can be extremely helpful as well as motivational. Walking across property that once belonged to your ancestors can be very touching. Walking through a cemetery and finding the headstone of a child of one of those ancestors whose name was not recorded anywhere else can be an eternity—changing event.
Do you have a special feeling about a particular line? Many people like to follow their own surname while others find that a lot of researchers have already traced their surnames and feel as if they’re time would be used more wisely on another line. Taking time to pray about the line you research is a very valuable use of your research time.