Safety When Doing Genealogy
Author Tammy Tipler-Priolo BASc, PLCGS © 6 August 2014
Lets first talk about the number one rule when conducting genealogy, that is start with yourself and work backwards. It sounds simple enough and you wonder why worry about the safety in this, but there are pitfalls in not working back methodically. Oh sure there are times when one must work forwards or even sideways to find the path to the past and even when one must meander through the records of information in such a manner, safety is still a concern. When starting with yourself one needs to be able to find the most recent records for themselves and eventually their forefathers and mothers. Obtaining the records which have the evidence that links one to the next generation is necessary in order to be sure you are on the correct path. If not you could spend years and money tracing the wrong line. Secondly you must be aware of the privacy laws in your area; who can order your or your ancestor's birth, marriage and/or death registration in the 20th and 21st century. This will all be mandated by the provincial/state or federal government depending which government is responsible for such laws. Make sure you read the application carefully and try and order a long form or full certificate which most often will have the connection to the next generation you are looking for.
When meeting others who claim to be a long lost cousin, be smart. Don't meet alone; bring along another family member or friend. Now days you can do Internet searches to find out who people are including Googling them, finding them on Facebook as well as on LinkedIn. Ask older relatives if they have ever heard of the person(s) you want to meet up with. I have met many distant relatives over my 22 years of conducting family history research and if I ever felt uncomfortable meeting someone, I always made a point of bringing along my mother, husband or a friend. If you absolutely must meet up with someone on your own, I suggest meeting in a public place like a coffee shop or library. That way you have other people around just in case the meeting does not go as planned. These days with identify theft and fast paced technology anyone can get a hold of personal information. The same holds true if you are trying to help someone with their genealogy project, if you don't know them find out about them or at the very least don't meet up with them alone. Now don't let this scare you off of sharing your family tree with others, all I am saying is be careful when meeting up with strangers who want to compare notes; just be smart about it.
When traveling to ancestral homelands, be sure you know the laws and regulations in the area you are traveling. Not only is this smart advice for genealogist but all travelers in general. This could mean anything from a speeding ticket to military occupation. Make sure you know what you are getting into before heading back to the land of your ancestors. Will you need a passport, visa and other documents to get to where you are going. Also bring along maps and the GPS, if it works properly. There is nothing worst then the GPS sending you down some unplanned route telling you that you have arrived at your destination on the right and it is not where you were suppose to be at all. Bring water and some food with you. If you are traveling in places like Arizona you may have long stretches of road a head without a place to stop for miles. I really like to stop at all the tourist information offices. First you get to take a rest in a place that is relatively safe, washrooms are at hand, maps are usually available for the area and helpful tourist information guides are very willing to help you out if you are lost or just looking for the nearest hotel; these guides know the inside scoop so don't be afraid to ask for their help. Also remember to plan your genealogy trip a head of time. There is nothing worst then showing up at a church, archive, library, etc. to find that they are closed for some holiday. Oh yes and bring along a cell phone, you never know when you will need it, and it can come in hand if it has features like note taking, recording, a camera and any other app you may need.
A side note about finances; shop around for the best price realizing the cheapest price is not always the safest route. There are plenty of free websites out there, however some well recommended pay/per view websites may end up costing you less in time and money. Ask others what they recommend and try to find pay/per view websites that may be offered for free at your local library or archive. There is also the old fashioned way of researching through books and microfilm at local genealogical society libraries. Also check you public library for access to local newspapers, voters lists and city directories; librarians and archivists are a wealth of information when it comes to their collections. Be ware that time may be limited at various institutions in the way of help so prepare a head of time what questions you will ask and definitely bring filled out pedigree charts and any family group sheets to make things easier for all.
Lastly I want to talk about record preservation. Keep your records out of the basement to prevent damage from floods, mold and mice. The attic is a tempting place to store those records, however it can be too dry in the attic and records can become brittle and vanish into dust. Pests can get into these records and eat away at them as well in the attic. Watch that you store your records in temperatures and humidity levels that we humans enjoy. I have a fire safe to keep my most treasured records in and filing cabinets and binders for others. Of course storing your information on the computer is great as long as you have those records backed up. Photographs need to be cared for properly as well. Acid free pens and pencils should be use for labeling and never write on the back where someone's face is on the other side. Acid free ink should not bleed through or eat away at the photo paper, but why take a chance; it could be the only picture you have of that relative. Better yet scan those photographs and share copies of them along with copies of the records you have with other family members, that way if something does happen in your home you have recall from others. I myself have an old cardboard picture of a Great Great Uncle that is turning to dust. Luckily I had scanned the image years ago and thus Uncle Calixte will still be around for future generations to admire.
Oh yes and don't forget to cite your sources as you will want to remember where you found the record, thus making it more reliable to yourself and others. Also watch out for any copy right issues as each country has its own laws. Better to be safe then sorry! Here's hoping you have many years of safe genealogical journeys. Happy Hunting!!
"MAY ALL YOUR GENEALOGICAL DREAMS COME TRUE!!"
Tammy Tipler-Priolo BASc, PLCGS
The Ancestor Investigator is also the Ancestor Whisperer!