Out on a Limb: Ever Green

By Allison Dolan Premium

I met recently with a group of subscribers to talk about their genealogy pursuits and their opinions of Family Tree Magazine. To kick off the discussion, I asked the group members how long they’ve been researching their family histories, and what experience level they consider themselves. A genealogy instructor named Karen piped up, “I’ve been teaching for 20-plus years — but I’m always a beginner!”

Karen’s response struck me, not because it was surprising, but because it hinted at a universal truth: There’s a beginner within every family historian. Genealogy’s such a huge subject, with so many records and resources to learn and explore, that no one could be an expert in them all — not even a genealogy instructor with more than 20 years’ experience. Whether you’ve been pursuing your pedigree for five years or five decades, you’re always a newbie in some aspect of genealogy.

This idea emphasizes a key aspect of Family Tree Magazine‘s mission: to be the most beginner-friendly genealogy publication you’ll find. As loyal readers know, that doesn’t mean we create our content only for family history novices. Rather, we try to provide advice and information that’s useful to readers of all experience and skill levels. In doing that, we strive to explain family history topics in an engaging, easy-to-follow manner — so even if you’re totally new to that topic, you’ll understand.

For example, suppose you’ve tracked several branches of your family back to 19th-century Illinois. You can scroll through census microfilms with the best of ’em, and you could search the state archives’ online marriage index (at <>) in your sleep.

Then you discover that one of your ancestors emigrated from Germany in 1862. You’re elated with this breakthrough — until you realize you don’t know a German town name from one of Jupiter’s moons. And the local parish registers might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. There’s no denying it: You’ve been whisked back to Beginner-land. But if you read our German-research guide, you’ll learn how to get past those research obstacles. Soon, tracing Great-great-grandpa Heinrich’s family won’t seem so foreign anymore.

You’re always running into these kinds of challenges and dead ends — or as genealogy buffs like to call them, “brick walls.” And true to our mission, this issue features tons of advice for conquering those problems, starting with the 31 brick-wall busting ideas in our cover story.

In your Internet research, you’ve undoubtedly encountered hurdles such as conflicting or illogical information (“Hmm … How could my Fenstermakers be having kids in Iowa at the same time they were buying land in Pennsylvania?”). Our six-step guide will show you how to separate the truth from the “trash.”

Maybe your dilemma’s not with the data but with the delivery: You’re enough of a computer novice that your Web research feels like an exercise in futility. You can’t get the darned machine to do what you want, and the “help” manual really is more of a hindrance. Let our 16 computer tricks and time-savers come to your rescue.

We know you’d rather spend your time actually finding ancestors than figuring our how to trace them — which is why we’re so dedicated to creating a beginner-friendly magazine. We want our articles to provide shortcuts to the tools and knowledge you need to succeed in your search.

So to Karen, I’d like to say thanks for so succinctly summing up what this magazine’s really about. And to all our readers: I hope that this — and every — issue of Family Tree Magazine appeals to the beginning genealogist in you.
From the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine.