25 November 2014

Expand your research skills with genealogy magazines and journals

When you receive a new issue of a genealogy magazine or journal, do you read it cover to cover? Or do you browse through the pages, looking for an article that fits in with your family research plan or contains related surnames? If you’re in the latter group, you may be missing opportunities to increase your research skills or overlooking more than a connection to a collateral line.

Be Prepared

Genealogy publications such as Family Tree Magazine are filled with useful articles ranging from finding Civil War ancestors and German roots, using social media or the latest DNA tests to find cousins, and reviewing the best web sites to how-to ideas for courthouse research or archival storage, and deciphering clues hidden in legal documents or photo mysteries.

Read all the articles, regardless whether you have a Czech ancestor or need new genealogy software. Why? Even if the article doesn’t pertain to you right this minute, you may find out three months later that your German great-great grandfather actually was born in Bohemia or that your beloved database program has been discontinued. Or a good friend—who has never been interested in your hobby, your obsession—has an event scheduled in her Swedish grandparents’ homeland, and she wants to know how to start her family tree.

Besides learning something specific, you may be able to apply what you’ve read to another part of your research. You could learn about using a record group available in the National Archives and turn that knowledge into using corresponding state-level resources. A piece on marriage records may explain why your great-great’s diary mentioned “jumping the broom” or a hand-fast, or it could explain how laws differed in bordering states or countries, making an unexpected wedding ceremony location make sense—or even give you a clue where to search for a marriage certificate or notice.

Apply What You Learn

Scholarly genealogical journals—such as The American Genealogist (TAG), New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly—often feature more in-depth articles, on a specific family or area. An article on an unrelated couple in Connecticut could give you clues about your own family’s migratory path from Essex county, Massachusetts. Or it may mention a name within a four-generation study that ties into your own line—and you may have missed it if you didn’t read page 83 or thoroughly scan the annual everyname index.

You may learn how to evaluate your data in a different way. If you have a tendency to use mostly vital records and census records in your research, reading about how someone used city directories or probate records to distinguish men of the same name could provide you with incentive to learn more about underused resources. It helps to see how people use mapping software or land ownership to solve parent/child relationships. You may even learn historic tidbits, such as military conscription or wedding fees, and how they influenced your ancestors’ lives.

Book reviews, articles, footnotes, and references could include publications, web sites, library collections, or unpublished manuscripts that could help you crack your brick wall.

You never know what you’ll find within the pages of an article that will help your genealogy research. So pick up a magazine or journal. Don’t just browse. Read!