Finding the Right Family to Search

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By Amanda Forson, World Vital Records, Inc.

For novice and experienced researchers, there is a common question when coming to genealogy for the first time or coming back to it after a hiatus. That question is “With Which Family Do I Start?” (…or Continue?) Although simply choosing a random family may yield good results, there is often a certain tug or pull toward one ancestor or another. There may be a tug toward more than one at the same time. Either follow this tug or “ask them.”

The instant tug for one ancestor is how the author began her researching at a young age while looking over her grandmother’s pedigree charts. There was nothing more than a name and some vital information as part of a regular pedigree chart, but that simple information was enough to draw the attention of the author, and to never let go. After initially finding this ancestor’s family on census microfilm rolls at the National Archives in DC, and further work two years later, the author felt the first tug leave and a new tug take its place. Over the succeeding years, sometimes there is a tug, sometimes random circumstances draw together the answers to formerly “brick wall” questions.

During the author’s undergraduate studies, each semester would present a new project for which the author would need to choose a new family. The method for choosing which family or which person to search was a matter of pondering and prayer. While some reading this column may not believe in prayer, the author finds it helps in deciding what family to search. It can’t hurt!

Some may find the process difficult, choosing ancestors to which other relatives seem to be attached. For those who are having a difficult time deciding on an ancestor (none of them seem to be tugging particularly), exert mental effort and ask them. It actually works remarkably well for the author.

Ancestors do not line up in ghostly rows when trying to find out who to search. There may be an inkling of a particular pedigree chart to look at, or a parental line or side of the family that has not received attention in a number of years. Perhaps a relative or an ancestor has died, and their family or progenitors were not well-known. Asking which ancestor will help you the most, or who wants or deserves research done while at a particular archive or library may open unexplored avenues and develop friendships otherwise untapped.

Despite cultural, religious, or scientific boundaries, genealogical researchers can almost universally accede that they feel a “wanting to be connected” or instant drive when searching for deceased or living family members. Family is the core of human connectedness. Whether searching for unknown ancestors or for missing relatives who may still be alive, understanding one’s family reflects the process of understanding oneself.

For further reading: Unexplained tugging by ancestors are outlined in books such as Psychic Roots by Henry Z. Jones and his complementary volume, More Psychic Roots.

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