Rhonda Sanders’s co-workers call her the “lady in charge of the dead and the moldy.”
Although it is a humorous title for the genealogy and local history librarian for the Hall County Library System’s Gainesville branch, it’s also a reflection on how little people may know about genealogy.
The best example of how genealogy is more interesting than simply studying the deceased is Sanders’ suggestion for beginning the genealogy process: start with yourself. It actually is best to begin with immediate family, Sanders explained at the Basic Building Blocks of Genealogy class in the Gainesville library branch recently. Most of the people searched could still be alive.
“You need to get your birth certificate,” Sanders said. “From there, you’ll go back to your parents and your grandparents and collect as much information about them as you can, generation by generation.”
Reasons for finding information on one’s family tree vary, but Sanders said one of the most important reasons could be for his or her health.
“People are finding out that they need to do their medical genealogy, so that they find out earlier if they should have heart tests, stress tests, breast cancer tests — all of this,” Sanders said.
TLC’s newest show “Who Do You Think You Are?” featuring celebrities discovering their own genealogy also has inspired people to dig into their history.
As can be expected, when people go digging for their family’s history, it can be surprising. Sanders said people she talks to find “good things, bad things.”
Rumors passed down through the years about scandalous relatives spark interest and curiosity about ancestors in one’s family, she added. Luckily for people with possibly shady relatives, the more scandalous the family member was, the better it is for the genealogy seeker. A person who may have criminal records or was mentioned in the newspaper would be easier to follow than a regular, law-abiding citizen, she said.
Of course, for those with fewer relatives to talk about a family’s history, other materials and resources are available for beginning genealogists. Old newspapers, trunks, boxes and photographs are good places to start looking. For older photographs, Sanders recommended using a scanner to download them onto a computer. She also suggests observing the back of the pictures for any labels or other useful information to trace the family’s history.
Other helpful materials include old family Bibles, which could contain anything from birth certificates to marriage records, if they are from a certain era of time. Copyright and publishing dates on old books could help to determine when the family used them.
Since genealogy can lead to endless information and a sizeable stack of papers, organizational tools can be useful. Sanders advised the class to have a three-ring notebook with notebook paper, pencils and sharpeners, extra erasers and standard forms, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or Evidence Expanded. She recommends these two publications for beginners to help them keep their information together properly.
Once beginning genealogists compile the information, they can start tracing their family tree. A pedigree chart should be used and include full names, nicknames and maiden names.
Out of all the things taught at the class, Sanders said the best advice she can give to those curious about their ancestors would be to talk to as many living family members as possible.
“After you get your basic research on yourself, go talk to your oldest living relatives,” she said. “Whether it’s an older brother or sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent, great-grandparent; plan on spending a day with them. Just talk to them, ask some questions, get them reminiscing about walking down the old paths and talking about their favorite Christmas events or favorite dishes grandma made, or whatever, and you’ll find out all sorts of wonderful stories about your family.”
The Hall County Library System provides access to several research tools and resources at their branches.