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Researching Ancestry Through a Camera Lens


As I research my ancestral lineage, I am reminded of how I use my camera to get the best photo shot. Should I use a wide angle lens for position and perspective to get all my ancestors into the frame? Do I need to get closer to get inside (“you’re not close enough” as Robert Capa said) the details of my ancestor’s life? Space and distance is on my mind as I assemble a paper trail on the ancestors in my family tree. A telephoto lens does not bring an indirect ancestor closer but can make that ancestor appear close up.


Verda and Donald Bachman, Undated Family Photo


There is no substitute for researching all the details of an ancestor’s life. Knowledge, familiarity and a type of intimacy comes with all those hidden details to the experience of our ancestors’ time and life.


Many genealogists take note of the time it takes to locate the full details of an ancestor’s life – marriages, children, military service, the search for land deeds and land transfer documents – legal papers that highlight a household’s movement from town to town. Why did our ancestors move entire households across town?


In order to be present to the details of my ancestor’s life, not from my perspective, but from the point of view my ancestors’ lived from, I want the figure of my research to figure in the perspective of time and place. I want to keep everything in sharp focus from near to far.


When you spend time on becoming the family historian that documents your family’s lineage, you will be rewarded with a unique perspective and knowledge of the diversity, ethnicity, religious practices, and day-to-day lives of your ancestors.


Online Resources


Search online for genealogy checklists. Many useful checklists delineate the steps, process and format of researching one’s ancestry. As a researcher, marriage certificates, birth and death documents, family bibles, announcements of weddings, baptisms, memorial and funeral cards are just some of the evidence a researcher can use to discover and document the individuals in a family tree.


Passenger records and ship manifests listing people who passed through Ellis Island are available and free on FamilySearch.org and LibertyEllisIslandFoundation.org.


United States Federal Census Records are free and available at FamilySearch.org and provide many details of a household.


State Census Records provide information in between those federal census years. The beginning year of each state census vary by state, but each state in the US began their census enumeration at some point and they provide information in what would normally be gaps in research.


Military Records and military record information from the National Archives at https://www.archives.gov/research/military/genealogy will help bring an ancestor in the background into the foreground with important elements of depth and sharpness of detail of the lives surrounded by war.


Genealogy Webinars can provide contemporary skill sets, new online sources for research, and the essentials of higher learning processes and analysis of databases and record sets. Legacy Family Tree webinars at https://familytreewebinars.com, the Virtual Genealogical Association at https://virtualgenealogy.org, and many state genealogical societies create exemplary webinars that help form the skills and knowledge a family researcher needs to build and document evidence that prove kinship and create a family tree. Viewing a webinar live is often free and speaker handouts generously provide links to databases and records.


Social Media provides many genealogists and family historians the opportunity to share their work and genealogical expertise online. #GenChat on Twitter, the research work and blogs of genealogists on Linkedin, old photos of Scottish people and Scottish places on Google+, well researched blogs on topics from Dower Share, Dowry & Dower Rights on GenealogyBlog at https://www.genealogyblog.com/?p=20449 to Headrights in colonial Virginia provide incentive, inspiration and knowledge of time periods that continue to inform our perspective and knowledge of family life.


DNA and its use in documenting family ancestry brings familial connections and privacy concerns and is an area that needs the assistance of expertise to fully flesh out its use in family trees.


For more information on researching your ancestry, please contact me at 4Descendants@cox.net or via this website contact form.


I look forward to hearing from you!


Author: Laurene Cross
Laurene Cross is a genealogist and family historian who writes stories about your ancestry and cultural heritage. Owner of Find My Family Stories and 4Descendants – Lineage Research

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