Last year made us more careful when it comes to planning, so we all begin 2021 a little more concerned and probably less brazen-faced when it comes to New Year’s resolutions lists. If you still gaze at blank calendar pages shyly, we come with a bunch of genealogical proposals. Perhaps the fact that we are going to spend some more time in isolation will help us clear what we already know about our family history but also define new plans and goals.
Okay, where do we start then?
Find out what you already know. Regardless your family tree includes 5 or 500 people, it is always good to visualize information you have collected. Generally, the basic information we, genealogists, are looking for, are birth, marriage and death certificates, sometimes emigration or naturalization documents. Do you have them all? Which are still missing?
Find out where the documents you need were created. Usually the place of their storage is not far from the place of their origin and a huge amount of genealogical documents can be found online. Are you not sure which archive has the birth certificate of your great-grandfather? Join our Polish Genealogy Helper Facebook group and feel free to ask for tips.
Plan your research! Part of the sources is already indexed and searchable via genealogical browsers and databases. Some of them need to be studied page by page, regardless they are digitalized or not. (When meeting troubles, you can always request assistance of professionals and hire a researcher, e.g. from Your Roots in Poland 😊.)
Learn something new about the place of origin of your ancestors. Even when the travels stay limited due to the global pandemic, you can still find a lot online. Do you know how big was the town, from where your great-great-grandmother embarked on her journey? When was it settled? What was happenning there during the WW2? Who were the members of the community your ancestors belonged to? How did the streets they walked look like? Sometimes you can start your virtual trip from a Wikipedia article or the official website of the town. Perhaps you can find a memory book? Or a group of local history enthusiasts that don’t want their (and your!) heritage to be forgotten? Instead of a „real walk” you can turn to the Google Street View and see what has changed comparing to historical photographs.
Did we say ‘photographs’? Do you own any family photos? Can you recognize every face that is captured there? Also: before you reach the most „vintage” ones in your collection, put some effort to write down the names on the back of your own photos. Memory can be tricky even ten years after the event. (What was the name of that girl from the college sitting by the fireplace? Who is this redhead aunt on the picture who always used to bring you chocolate sweets?) When there is nobody to ask, you may use social media and find a group with specialists on a specific period who will be able to tell what uniform is your ancestor wearing, which decade or even studio was your picture taken.
Talk! Pandemic made some of us spend more time with our families, some – left on the other end of the world or country. But we all have apprecciated the time shared with our beloved ones, in person or via videochat. Ask your uncle, cousin or grandma about what they remember from their youth. Ask if they recall some stories their parents told them. Have you already found the photogrphs from the point no. 5? See how pictures can be a trigger for storytelling.
Do you want to feel connected with your heritage? Learn how to say few words in the mother tongue of your ancestors. Did they speak Polish? Or maybe Yiddish, German, Lithuanian or Ukrainian? You can easily find self study materials online (have you tried Memrise or Duolingo?) or find a teacher. There is a popular quote of Tomáš Garrigue: As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being. Perhaps you will discover that this is the way to unite with your family history.
Attend a webinar on genealogy or a virtual tour in a museum. Watch a documentary or find a book about the history of your heritage region.