Thursday, January 10, 2013

Smart Researchers Know Where to Look

     My almost-75-year-old mother texted me the other day to tell me that she had talked to the guy at Lowe’s about her weird light bulbs. He explained what was going on and she concluded her text with “Now I am smarter than the maintenance guy – at least about light bulbs!” I replied, “You’re always smarter because you know where to look for information.”
     And it’s true. My mother would have been an excellent researcher. She has that intuitive sense of where and how to look for answers. And lucky me, she passed that gene or that knowledge or whatever on to me.
     In genealogy, which is just a subset of historical research, knowing where to look for things is very important. You can spend all day and spin your wheels hunting in the wrong direction for a piece of information. If you start researching with the notion that the only place you are going to find that birth certificate is on the state archives website what happens when you discover that the archives don’t cover the year you need?
     Before you sigh and write a check for that record, you might want to look in a few other places. There are literally dozens of online databases and repositories, some for free, some fee-based. But the trick is to know where to look.
     If you aren’t sure where those other places might be, let me suggest that you join an exciting new online community called the Rootsonomy Research Group. This is a totally free, Skype-based group of genealogists representing a kazillion years of knowledge who are available to help you find your missing link, break down your brick wall, or uncover that hard-to-find document or piece of evidence.
     My partner company, Rootsonomy, has spear-headed this project and sweet-talked a pre-eminent genealogist, Jan Edwards, into taking the lead in this community. Jan has been researching her family’s history (and a whole lot more) since 1994. She is a lead researcher on the Rootsonomy staff and was one of the pioneers who put together the FamilySearch Skype research community. Jan also helped to build the Facebook FamilySearch Genealogy Research Communities, so Jan knows how to Skype and she knows the FamilySearch holdings like the back of her hand.
     The great thing about working with Jan is that she teaches you how to find the documents you need. So once you work through one puzzle with her, chances are, if you were paying attention, you will know how to do it on your own the next time. Jan is friendly, too, which makes working with her even better. No talking down to you. No treating you like you ought to know the answer. No sighing or rolling her eyes at your question. Which all translates into an easy and fun learning process.
     So how do you join this wonderful community? It’s very easy. Just send an email to Tell them “I want to join the Rootsonomy Research Group” and provide your Skype name.
     That’s all you have to do. You will be added to the group and then you can hop in any time of the day or night and ask your questions, help someone else, or (this is what I like to do) just hang out and listen in on the other conversations, learning little tips and tricks as the day progresses.
     If you have never Skyped before, let me reassure you – it’s easy. Really, really easy. Since this is an IM group that means you are typing not talking face to face. No need for a webcam. No need for a microphone. All you have to do is download Skype to your computer and off you go!
     So, if you want to be as smart as my mother, who is at least as smart as the maintenance guy, simply borrow her trick: learn where to go to get your answers. And one of the best places I can recommend is the Rootsonomy Research Group. Give it a try. I bet you become smarter, too!

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