Monday, December 11, 2006

What Would You Give a Genea-Newbie for Christmas?

When starting out with a new hobby, it's sometimes difficult to know what the "tools of the trade" are. How do you you know what to ask Santa for if you have no or very little experience? Take genealogy for instance. If you start out like a lot of people, with some family pictures and stories and not much else, what would you ask Santa to bring you to help you research your family history?

I've been giving this some thought lately and at the same time reflecting back on how different the genealogical research process is these days from when I started some ten years ago. That was back in the days before, GPS, affordable digital cameras, the Ellis Island online database, Google maps, Google notebook, Google's Picasa software... well, you get the picture. Back then, genealogy wasn't technology based or technology driven. You weren't at an extreme disadvantage if you weren't techno-savvy because genealogy wasn't techno-dependent.

Ahh, but things have changed. I think the single most important tool in genealogy research these days is the computer with internet access. You don't necessarily need to own one (most public libraries have computers with internet access these days) but you do need to know how to use one. If you don't, the single best gift you could give a budding genealogist in my opinion is basic computer/internet-use classes. Of course there are all sorts of other techno-goodies that are also great tools to have, like digital cameras, iPods, PDA, GPS, scanners, software, and blank media for backups. But one could get along for a good while without those goodies and still make good progress with their research.

But let's assume for a minute that our genealogy newbie is techno-savvy at least as far as the basics go. What gift(s) would you get for them outside of the technology realm?

I think I'd give them a membership in a genealogical and or historical society and encourage them to attend meetings regularly. The people I met in the course of my own genealogical research have enriched my life and helped my research more than any books or web sites I've read. The best tips I received didn't appear in books. They came from friendly people at libraries, Family History Centers, Historical and Genealogical Societies, online message boards/mailing lists, and my own family.

More than any "how to" books, gift certificates for professional genealogy research services, or techno-goodies, I think personal advice from people who have "been there, done that" would be the best gift you could give a genea-newbie. Funny, it would have been the most valuable gift I could have received ten years ago too.

What do you think? What gift(s) would you give a genea-newbie?

(Click to view larger image)

This bull-riding cowboy is an ornament I picked up while vacationing in San Antonio, TX back in 2001. You can't see it very well, but it has a pull-string hanging from it. When you pull the string the bull "bucks". It has a carved-wood look to it but it's actually made of a resin compound I think. It's charming and I smile every year when I put it on the tree. I remember back to the fun I had watching the bull riders at Billy Bob's Honky Tonk. Yee Haw!