Teamwork. Not usually the first thing you think of when you are working on your family history.  Sitting alone in front of computer or researching in the library hour after hour is the usual image.  There are even jokes and comic strips about the often lonely work of the family historian.  But after 20 plus years of researching my family, I am more aware and attentive to teamwork because family information is infinite.  Infinite is more than any one person can deal with on their own, unless you are immortal. (keep dreaming)

For instance, your family has birth records, marriage records, divorce records, tax records, death and cemetery records, probates, photos…shall I go on? And, even though you can find some of this information on ancestry websites, why not use family members, neighbors, and friends to either give you information they have in their possession or help you search for the information.

Do you become a bit envious of people who say “my cousin had already done my husband’s family history, so all I did was input the information”? What about family members who may have a treasure trove of old (or new) family photos that are disintegrating in the attic or have been scanned but not shared? I have a cousin who started working on his family history at the age of 15 and is now in his 70’s. Don’t you know he has more than I could ever hope to have about my grandfather’s side of the family and lucky me, he shared the information with me!  Talk about exciting!

Another cousin of mine has family photos that I assume are still fading away in his attic. However, he forwarded a PAF (Personal Ancestral File) that gave me a head start on my grandmother’s family and I was able to copy of few of the pictures he had while on our last visit.  Ask for old photos and family as much as possible.  Make copies of originals if you can’t keep the originals.  Do it now, because you never know what will happen to those photos in the future.  One of my husband’s uncles sold a family picture.  Who would do that, you ask?  Well, evidently he would.  Note to self: get more pictures!

But I digress. So how do you assemble a team? The first thing is to treat anyone who gives you family information like they are your bestest buddies because, after all, they don’t have to share their information, now do they?  My cousin in Oregon refers to me as her “best friend I’ve never met” and my cousin in Missouri calls me her “sweet cousin.”  They both make me feel so special, which makes me want to keep in touch.  So far,  the cousins I have met and corresponded with have been absolutely terrific.  The next thing you want to do is share your information with them…it’s only fair. What a disappointment to share information with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. I know…it’s happened to me.

Who should be on your team or you on theirs? Moms, dads, siblings, aunts, uncles, step-whoever, neighbors, friends and especially in my case, cousins.   The next step seems obvious, but can be overlooked.  Like any team building process, you have to ask people to join the team! Put together a list of people you think might have information, pictures, documents, etc. that can be helpful to your family research.  Even siblings have a different take on their growing up years.  They might not have any physical item to share, but they will definitely have some stories you  haven’t heard.  Or you can start with whoever is already on your phone contacts list or in your address book. Give them a call, visit them in person, write an email (or even a letter!), respond enthusiastically to anyone who contacts you, set up an interview….whew!  Sound exhausting?  Consider this: a team that works well together can save you time and money. Now that’s something anyone can certainly appreciate.

As you work together, keep a record of when you have communicated with someone.  Have you received a document or other family goodies?  Make a note of what you received and the date you received it.  My cousin nicely suggested I record what she had sent me….after I sent a copy back to her because I had forgotten that she sent it to me! (oh yes, awkward).  If you organize your files to include date, title, and contributor, you will easily retrieve your family history and avoid my mistake.  Then make backing up everything a priority.  Everybody knows that computers, portable hard drives, and any digital machines will eventually breakdown.  Dvds and CDs also break down over time unless you have the new type of 100 year media.  Even if you have used the 100 year DVDs, you should update the type of media you use as new ways to share are introduced…who has video tapes anymore?….o.k., a few of you, but you get the idea.  And think about your descendants.  If transfer services are expensive today, think what it may be down the road.  Do you really want your sons, daughters, and grandkids to toss what you have so lovingly collected and preserved?  They are, then, part of your team…like it or not.

So here is your call to action…contact one person today who you would like to be on your team. Let them know that you would love to share what you have and need help in gathering all things family.  Most likely they will be flattered that you made the effort to ask. But if they are not interested, don’t get discouraged. There is going to be someone who can’t wait to share what they know with you and are so happy that you asked!  Remember, everyone has a story, but not everyone has someone to share it with.  The huge bonus…you become a “best friend they’ve never met.”  

 And a shout-out to those of you who have commented on my blog posts, as well as emailing me with suggestions for future posts. Thank you for each comment and suggestion…please keep ‘em comin’ because you are part of my team!

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