My Experience Doing Genealogy Research
Examining My Roots
Since a young boy, I have always been interested in my ancestral roots. This interest was first generated by stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents told by my father and mother. It was later stimulated by looking at old family pictures and most recently by viewing some photos of great-grandparents and a great-great-grandmother shared by one of my paternal cousins.
In this article, I first relate my initial attempts at researching my ancestors. I then describe some of the joys and sorrows searching for ancestors using Ancestry.com.
Initial Attempts Doing Ancestral Research
Shortly after retiring from teaching in April of 2014, I resolved to do genealogy research. I didn't get started with this project, however, until the summer of 2015 after my kidney operation.
Before beginning, I googled for a listing of free online genealogy research websites and found several. Some of the sites which I examined were Familysearch.org, Kindredtrails.com, The Olive Tree, AccessGenealogy.com, GeneaBios, and Familytree Searches. I also found some genealogy tips on genealogy gems.tv.
I found Familysearch.org the most useful site, however, when using it and other free sites, I always reached a point where I was referred to Ancestry.com for more information. Seeing that I was always hitting a brick wall when using free sites, I decided to invest in a membership on Ancestry.com where I was fairly sure of finding more of my ancestors.
Expectations Prior to Using Ancestry.com
Before paying for an all-access membership to use all of Ancestry's services, I expected to be able to use Ancestry.com's extensive files to identify all of my ancestors at least 300 years back into Europe. I had this expectation because I was paying for access to birth, death, and marriage records both inside and outside of the United States. With an all-access membership, I would also have access to all immigration, naturalization, ships' passenger lists, and military records both inside and outside of the U.S. I would also be able to research a lot of old newspapers.
One Month After Using Ancestry.com
After using Ancestry services for almost one month, I was able to identify many of my ancestors, however, I had problems finding any relation before my paternal great-grandfather. The whole experience was exciting, challenging, and at times very frustrating. The joys and sorrows of my Ancestry.com experience are detailed below.
Joys of Using Ancestry.com
There are several advantages to using Ancestry.com which made my genealogy research interesting and rewarding. Some of the joys in using Ancestry are as follow:
1. Excellent Software for Making and Viewing Family Trees
I have always wanted to make a family tree and trace it back in history as far as I can. Ancestry.com provides excellent programs for making family trees. After starting with dates of birth and names for my mother, father, and myself, Ancestry starts constructing a family tree that can grow in theory to infinity. The tree can show pictures of ancestors and be presented in different views. In a pedigree view, I can see the location on the tree of all ancestors and how they relate to me. Using a non-pedigree view, I can select any ancestor or living relative and view the persons directly related to them.
2. Excellent Profiles
In addition to building family trees, Ancestry has an excellent program for displaying profiles of all ancestors. The profile consists of added facts from researched documents, newspaper articles, pictures, and stories written by living relatives. Facts are listed chronologically with a link to documents. Also, there is a life story or biography of ancestors. Significant historical events in an ancestor's life may also be added to a life story.
3. Extensive Online Documents and Files
If you elect to get an all-access Ancestry membership, you have access to a multitude of birth, death, marriage, and census records both inside and outside of the United States. You can also lookup immigration and naturalization, ships' passenger lists, military records, and historical articles from selected limited U.S. newspapers.
4. Hints for Finding Information
Ancestry hints have made my genealogy research much easier. After you enter the name of an ancestor with a date of birth, death, and/or residence, Ancestry's computers scan their databases for any records about your ancestor. If there are any records from censuses, birth, death, and other documents plus previous family research on ancestors, a leaf appears next to the ancestor in your tree. By clicking on the leaf, you will get hints about the names of parents, spouses, and children of your ancestors.
Ancestry.com tutorials have been of assistance in guiding my research. These tutorials have shown me how to use various search functions and strategies in finding my missing ancestors both inside and outside of the United States.
6. Family Trees May Be Shared with Relatives
I have three sisters who are very interested in my genealogy research and the family trees that I have built. Ancestry.com allows me to invite sisters and other relatives to view my ancestry research.
7. Contact with Other Ancestry Researchers
A cousin on my father's side and one on my mother's side of the family have previously researched both my father's and mother's ancestors. I have recently contacted my paternal cousin and she has shared a lot of information about my great-grandparents. A paternal second cousin introduced by my paternal first cousin has also given me a lot of information about my paternal great-grandparents and great uncles and aunt.
Sorrows of Using Ancestry.com
Although I had exciting finds using Ancestry.com, there was a share of disappointments that caused unhappiness. Some of these sorrows are as follow:
1. Difficulty Finding Information Using Searches
I tried many filters and schemes in searching for records on Ancestry.com and most of the time I came up empty-handed. Searching is a daunting task because I never realized that there were so many persons with the same name as my ancestors. Most frustrating for me was trying to identify the father and mother of my paternal great-grandfather. I can't find any records for brothers or sisters of my great-grandfather which has also affected my searches.
2. Limited Access to Newspaper Articles
Although I paid for access to some historical newspapers, the newspapers in the towns and cities where my father, mother, paternal grandparents and great-grandparents lived are not available online. Hence I had no access to possible articles written while they were alive.
Although the first two weeks of Ancestry.com are free, I had to pay $45 monthly after that period for an all-access membership. This all-access is misleading, however, because if I want to have access to more historical newspapers, I must pay an extra $11 monthly, and extra money for access to Ancestry Archives. If I want to explore my genealogy DNA, I also have to pay more.
4. Dates and Spelling of Names Are Challenging
Most census records before 1940 don't give an exact date of birth. For example, my father was listed as being born about 1918, when in fact he was born on March 10, 1916. There are also a lot of variant spellings for the surnames of my mother and father.
5. German Sources
All of the records listing my great-grandfather's service in the Prussian Army during 1870 are in German as they appear in military records. A death card for a great-great-grandmother is also in German. Unfortunately, I am not very proficient in written German.
6. Little or Limited Information about Living Relatives
I have been unable to find any information about my living cousins on Ancestry. For my brother and sisters, however, I have been able to find one or two items from birth or marriage records.
While being on Ancestry.com 2016-2017, I found that genealogy research is not easy and can be a full-time job. Although I did not find as much as I wanted about my paternal ancestors, I found a lot about my mother's relation and ancestors through all access to Ancestry.com and paying extra for unlimited historical newspaper access. I am now addicted to genealogy research and planning a trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in the future to further discover my roots.
Genealogy Research Websites
Which Online Genealogy Research Website Have You Used?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn