Working in my yard is one of my favorite things to do–next to chasing ancestors of course. This past Saturday was beautiful and I got the opportunity to go out and do some weeding and planting and just generally have fun in the yard. As I worked relocating plants, filling planters and weeding, my mind wandered and I found myself drawing parallels between my two favorite pastimes. Today I thought Iâ€™d share a few that I came up with while I was out playing in the dirt.
Get to Know Your Location
It took me a while after moving into this house to figure out what plants work best, and where. I had to study the amount of sunlight each area of the yard gets, and when I buy new plants to go in a particular section, I check the tags to make sure theyâ€™ll do well in the space where Iâ€™m planting them.
Just as we have to get familiar with our garden features, we need to be familiar with our ancestorsâ€™ surroundings. We need to know what churches, cemeteries, and municipal offices were in the vicinity. What repositories are currently holding the records created in that area for the time span we are researching? What events might have impacted them during the time in which they lived there?
Create a locality file that you can use for reference. Include the holdings of local repositories, vital record availability, maps, church and cemetery information (including dates of establishment), a history folder with interesting historical tidbits, and possibly a timeline of the area in question. Not only will putting this file together better acquaint you with the history that impacted your ancestors, but youâ€™ll find that itâ€™s a reference tool that youâ€™ll be able to use time and time again.
Be Careful What You Put In
I think carefully about landscaping. The people before us had a great fondness for pea gravel and put it in every garden. Their garden had a few plants and a couple evergreens that werenâ€™t doing so well. I had to wonder if the pea gravel was affecting the soil pH and hurting the evergreens. It took me two seasons of back-breaking work to remove the pea gravel from all the gardens (along with the landscape cloth beneath it that made planting a bigger pain than pulling weeds). I replaced it with a layer of organic mulch that still does a decent job of repelling weeds, and that breaks down, gradually feeding the soil. The evergreens are thriving now and Iâ€™m free to plant what I want, where I want. Because of that experience when Iâ€™m planning to make a change, I now ask myself, â€œIf this doesnâ€™t work out, how hard will it be to remove?â€
We need to ask ourselves that with our family history too. While it can be easy to graft entire branches onto our family tree with the click of the mouse from online tree collections, how hard will it be to remove that branch if you find out that the link or part of the branch is based on faulty information? For that reason, if you are going to use information from online tree collections, itâ€™s best to take it one person at a time. Verify the sources provided (and if there are no sources warning bells should be going off in your head). Once youâ€™ve established that the individual is indeed related, add them to your file. While online trees are great for providing clues, the time saved by adding unverified information will pale in comparison to the time youâ€™ll have to spend trying to weed them out should you find out the information is bad.
Maintain a Routine
Just as I know I have to water and weed regularly to maintain my garden, I also need to schedule time to keep up with my family history. When I come home from my morning walks, I water all my potted plants. When my husband is watching his favorite TV show that is a bit too much for me (Iâ€™m a big wimp!), I escape to my office to catch up on reading my favorite family history blogs, do some filing, or search a new database. Thursday night, when my husband and daughter head off to their scheduled activities, is another time that I set aside for family history. Maintaining that routine keeps me engaged in my research, and I donâ€™t have those long dry spells that are so hard to break.
Iâ€™ve started doing some â€œcompanion plantingâ€ in the garden. For example, I plant marigolds around my tomato plants because I read that they will keep some pests at bay. As a bonus it dresses up the veggie garden and makes it look nice. (For those of you who are interested, there is more information on companion planting at CompanionPlanting.net).
We should employ similar practices with our family tree. Using a wide variety of records, not only adds interest, but also creates a healthier tree. Look especially at the sources of information. Was the informant for a death certificate the same cousin who gave the newspaper information for the obituary? Was it perhaps the same cousin who thought great-grandma was born in Ohio where she was raised, although in truth she was born across the river in West Virginia? If so, despite the consistency of multiple records, you may be searching for her birth certificate in the wrong state. Go for as many different records and sources as you can, and youâ€™ll find that like companion plants, they nurture and protect your family tree from erroneous information.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.