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From the Green Valley News, Friday April 15, 2005, page B4

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Where do I start? Consult David Copperfield.

One of the first questions Iím usually asked when someone learns I do genealogy is, "Where do I start?" Charles Dickensís character David Copperfield said, "To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born..."

And thatís where you start. The beginning is not your earliest ancestor, nor is it your parentsóit is you.

Write your story first, everything you know about yourself. Collect your own documents, i.e., birth certificate, education records, marriage license, work history, military service, awards or honors youíve received. Gather up old letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, the family Bible, photographs, etc. As you write youíll remember things and gain an awareness of your family connections. Once you get started, it becomes easier to write, so donít put it off. Remember your grandchildren will value your story as much as you value those of your ancestors.

Next youíre ready to talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and of course, your siblings. Itís amazing how brothers and sisters remember family events and circumstances differently. Start asking questions. First, the basicsónames plus the whens and wheres of births, marriages and deaths. Often it helps to ask about other aspects of life to jog memories. If you donít live close, write letters or make phone calls. If no relatives are left, talk to people who were close to them. Begin filling in your first Pedigree Chart as you learn more information.

When interviewing someone, please donít start with "tell me everything you know. " Ask specific questions. Take along old photographs of people and places if you can. Ask questions like:

Write down the answers, or if possible make an audio or videotape of the interview if the other person has no objection. Do be prepared in advance with the questions you want to ask and try to be somewhat familiar with the family of the person you interview. Often answers to one question may lead to others. You might ask about home and community life, personalities and relationships, economic conditions, family characteristics, whether any diseases run in the family and whether there was a black sheep in the family?

Above all, take your time. If the person tends to wander, try to steer the conversation back to whatís important without offending. If your question seems to agitate the person, change to another topic. Be considerate and donít weary an elderly relative with too many questions. If you establish a congenial relationship you can always plan to meet another time.

Next month, "Whatís Next?"

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