For 13 years DEAR MYRTLE has been "Your friend in Genealogy" on the Internet.
With a Subscriber only Daily Online Column ( It's Free! ) that can be read through a Blog, or an RSS Feed, and an E-mail List on Rootsweb, amateur Roots Digger-uppers have benefitted from the advice they have gained.
But, there's more!
Podcasts, and article archives.
Dear Myrtle Books one can purchase.
But most importantly there are the Beginning Genealogy Lessons!
35 of them, and 13 related ones.
Print them out! Myrtle Insists!
This website is just one of many in my Genealogy Blogroll.
In 2005 something I wrote to Myrtle was shared by her with her readers on Rootsweb.
One day Myrtle had asked readers what they would tell beginners, in the way of advice:
If you heard of someone just starting out, WHAT would be your advice? What pitfalls would you advise them to avoid? What organization tips have helped you the most?
Even though I'd been at this, sporadically, for 18 years, I still considered myself a "beginner", but I felt I had something to contribute, and that maybe Myrtle might agree.
I've edited my original letter to leave in that worth sharing all these years later:
I don't know why I'm responding to your request since, hell, I consider myself a beginner, despite sporadic digging since 1987. :-D
Life, little time, and resources, and not getting a computer until 1999 slowed me down.
While I did solve a family mystery, on my own, a few years ago, and have notions about solving another, it was thanks to the help of others met through Rootsweb and Ancestry, that I have new info that adds more mysteries for me to solve before I can proceed beyond 1900.
My advice to newbies, like myself, is to read, and use, all the websites, books, and articles, you can to help you learn, but also don't be afraid to DO, if you have the time, and means.
Participate in Message Boards, and e-mail lists.
The rewards might suprise you.
As you learn more about your ancestors, and discover mysteries, and supposed Brick Walls, don't give up. Study, and think about, all you know, ask questions, be persisitent, and you will be rewarded.
Another bit of advice pertains to using creative writing as a tool in your research:
If you discover a writing exercise that might help you, or other family members, remember, and subsequently share thoughts, memories, and stories go for it!
I did with the exercise called "Where I'm From".
Now THAT made my whole day! ;-D
I was not the only one to write in, and Myrtle shared several of those, along with mine:
It seems your responses fell basically into 3 categories:
-- cite your sources (title page and publication date)
-- interview older relatives
-- be persistent
-- develop an organization system
4 particular letters, deserve as wide an audience as possible:
1. Start with what you know (yourself and all details and paper to prove
birth, marriage, graduations, degrees, honors, etc.). Same with parents, siblings, then grandparents.
2. Keep a card file of events in chronological order. (That is the old fashioned way. Now there are timelines you can use, but I haven't started that yet.) Things like dates of Blizzard of 1888, Whiskey Rebellion, Johnstown Flood, Great Chicago Fire have affected my ancestors and I refer to them often.
3. Do one family thoroughly before going off into another branch of the family.
4. In-laws, step parents or step cousins may add a lot more than you'd imagine to your knowledge.
5. Have fun. Take a break often while working with microfilm, online researching, so you don't get genealogy hump on your back!
By Sharon Howell:
1. Document your sources. If you can't remember how to write a bibliography,
write down EXACTLY where you found the information. Somebody will be sure to ask you where you found that information, and you need to be able to tell them.
2. To start with, keep all things on one family name in that family's folder. If you find information on more than one surname in a given book/folder/whatever, copy the information enough times to put it in each name's folder.
3. As you find out more information on an individual, create a separate folder for that person. If a woman married only once, her information can be in her husband's folder; if not, give her a folder of her own.
4. Keep folders in one alphabetical order. If you try to divide them according to which side of the family they are on, you'll end up needing an index to where a person is. Use colored folders if you want to keep the family lines separate -- maybe one color for each grandparent and their ancestors and relatives.
5. Folders can be kept for locations, too. Put them in a separate alphabetical order, by state then by county. Be sure to copy the information for each family name folder, too.
6. The objective is to be able to put your hands on any piece of information you need within only a few minutes. This is an GOAL, no one has their filing up to date. I just moved with about 4" of information in one room and 5" in another room to be filed. I think now both bags of information are in the same room as the file cabinet.
By Carol A. Cox:
-- Start with yourself and work back, one generation at a time.
-- Make sure that you have solid evidence of a family connection from one generation to the next before you follow an ancestral line back to earlier generations. Work from the present to the past, and from the known to the unknown.
-- Spelling doesn't count. Look for every possible variation you can think of.
-- In earlier times spelling wasn't standardized. Whoever wrote a record may not have known the correct way to spell your ancestor's name.
-- Document the source of every piece of information you find. You need to be able to go back to the same source later, if necessary, or tell other researchers where to find the information. In case of conflicting data, you will be able to evaluate the sources and decide which is more likely to be accurate.
For documents: Issuing organization (for example, "Macomb County, Michigan" or "Littleton 1st Ward, Littleton, Colorado Stake"); date document was prepared; where the document was found ("Family History Library film #122334" or "Susan Jones's Book of Remembrance" or "Macomb County Courthouse, Mt. Clemens, Michigan") and the date you obtained the information.
For books: Author, title, publisher, date of publication or copyright date, page number, where the document was found, call number ("Denver Public Library, 979.5/E22" or "Family History Library film # 123345"), and the date you obtained the information.
For information from individuals: Name, address and relationship of the person who gave you the information; when and where they spoke to you. ("Interview with my grandmother, Margaret Smith, 24 June 1965, at her home in Denver, Colorado" or "Letter from James Davidson, son of John and May Davidson, 1234 Main St., Denver, Colorado, received 3 Apr 2003")
-- Just because you got it from a book (the internet, Aunt Susie, Ancestral File, etc., etc.) doesn't mean it's true. No record, person, or document is infallible, and some are less reliable than others. The rule of thumb is: the closer in time to the event that a record was made, the more likely it is to be correct. Use each source as a hint to where other documents might be found. Always try to find as many sources as possible to confirm information, and evaluate each source. k: "Who wrote this, and how likely was he to have direct knowledge of this event?"
-- Organize and file new information as soon as you find it. Enter data and sources into Personal Ancestral File 5 or other software program. Develop a filing system for copies of documents, letters and other paper records.
-- Use standard size paper and forms for all your notes. Notes on scraps of paper and odd size pages lead to chaotic files and lost information.
-- Put your name and phone number on every folder or notebook that you take away from home to do research. You'd be surprised at the valuable records people leave behind at the Family History Center!
By Warren Artley:
First I would suggest a good free Genealogy program such as Personal Ancestry File or Legacy so they can start recording info as they get it and know how to enter the info. I would suggest they start with themselves and add their family as they know it, parents, siblings, children, etc.
Next I would suggest using a program like FamilySearch.org or RootsWeb.com for free searches. I would suggest they keep and record all their sources. If they can afford a fee service, I would suggest Ancestry.com or some equal service.
Typing their surname in a good search engine such as Google will produce lots of hits to check out. Of course using the message board in Rootsweb may show other persons researching the same surname and then they can compare notes. And of course join a local genealogy society so they can find support and assistance from others.
Thanks Myrtle, for being there for people like me to discover!
Thanks to my fellow researchers, not just for the help you continue to give me, but for sharing your thoughts in columns, letters, magazines, e-mails, and message boards all around the world!