Family history can be like time travel or a treasure hunt. By focusing on the people in one’s family history, anyone can discover “ancestors are more than just names and dates,” taught researcher Justin G. Thomas.
Thomas’ on-demand class debuted as part of RootsTech 2023, which ran March 2-4.
Throughout his presentation, Thomas identified aspects of family history work that make it more effective and meaningful. He broke down family history work into four main points:
- Adventure of discoveries.
- Afterward ... so, what now?
- Is making time for family history really possible?
Just as taking a trip requires planning, so does family history, Thomas explained. He said that three aspects go into planning:
- Ancestor knowledge.
- Ask a relative.
- Plan your research.
When thinking about what one knows about their ancestors, names, birth dates and locations, marriage dates and locations, death dates and locations, and burial information may all be considered.
Once the point is reached where further firsthand information is unknown, asking family members is the next step, said Thomas. Reaching out to parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins all are useful sources — as they may be aware of other stories or details from the ancestor’s life.
Next up is planning further research. According to Thomas, this means determining the goal, reviewing known details and forming a hypothesis about the ancestor.
2. Adventure of discoveries
While researching, Thomas explained, there are many aspects that reveal information about the ancestor. Photos, mode of transportation, historical events, occupation, heirlooms, clothing and fashion, residence, music, arts and entertainment, family relationships, cost of shopping expenses may all be influential in this historical hunt.
Additional helpful questions to ask may include whether the ancestor served in the military, if they kept a personal diary or if he or she was religious at all.
These observations allow for a better understanding of the ancestor’s time period and environment they lived in, therefore allowing a better understanding of the ancestors themselves.
3. Afterward ... so, what now?
After collecting this information, Thomas noted three steps to take next:
- Analyze what has been found — are there any sources better than what was previously discovered?
- Write down their story.
- Share what was found.
Thomas emphasized the importance of writing it all down and sharing it with others, specifically with other family members. He stated, “Like any treasure, family history doesn’t deserve to remain buried.”
To honor ancestors, Thomas suggested visiting their graves, either online or in person. To create a personal memorabilia for one’s own history, he suggested creating a personal or family time capsule for one’s future self or family to see.
4. Is making time for family history really possible?
Thomas recognized the busy lives that so many lead. However, he provided a list of simple tasks to help encourage family history work. He explained that whether one has five minutes or two hours, one may find a chunk of time to fit in family genealogy and encouraged viewers to discover events that influenced them and what their everyday life was like.
“Your ancestors are waiting for you not only to find them, but to know them and to serve them by telling their stories,” he said. “Someday, after this life, we will meet them and they will thank us for telling their stories.”