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How Do I Do It?

This page is for all those people who say "I'm interested in doing my family history, but don't know where to start". You know who you are!

I've got a few rules for my research:

1. Its got to be fun. (if it isn't fun, then stop!)

2. Its got to be cheap.

3. I'm not allowed to neglect my family.

Thats it really. And 14 years on, it is still fun. It is interesting, and hey, at family reunions, I'm in demand! I have met loads of great people (of course they're great - they are related to me!), and on the way learned a lot about myself, my ancestors, and New Zealand history. Take heed though - don't even start if your aim is to prove a link to the royals or someone famous. Not fun, and usually a waste of time. However, if you have some old family stories that sound pretty cool, these are sometimes interesting to follow up.

I commented that this research has to be cheap. I am not sure whether it is the Scots coming out in me, or just that it is a heap more fun when you do it yourself. It doesn't have to be awfully time-consuming either - and who knows - after a few years, your family might even get interested (that covers the rule of not neglecting your family).

Family history to some is names, dates, places. It is not to me. (Well, I do have a database of over 2500 individuals...) Those family stories that may or may not be true... they are legends that have been passed down - celebrate them. Skeletons? Well, I have stumbled across a few, and they are usually best left sleeping. Hey - they may make a good story, but respect the feelings of others. I find that the names, dates and places are the bones, while the stories are the flesh. If you are like me you will find "favourites" - people who seem to strike a chord with you. They may not be direct ancestors, they may be cousins a few times removed. Don't feel guilty for chasing an offshoot if they seem interesting! As long as you keep your notes organised (yeah yeah, do as I say not as I do) you can go back to the main branch when you feel like it.

I'm not a direct ancestor or pedigree seeker. I do all families, whichever seems more interesting at the time - and depending on the resources at hand. Heading straight for Adam just doesn't do it for me. The paternal side? Sure, I've heard that rule, which could be why I don't do it.

So, thats my research and my rules. Of course, they are always subject to change.

Most of what I do is based in New Zealand. Partly because it is easy to get resources, you stand a good chance of stumbling across rellies, and you can actually visit the places you family lived, without breaking the bank. I also haven't finished the NZ bit yet!

New Zealand Research

Places that you have to go:

> your local library

> your local LDS centre

Depending on where you live, the local library should have some of these resources. I know they are at Auckland Central, Hamilton, New Plymouth, National Library and Christchurch. The LDS Centres (or Jesus Christ Church of the Latter Day Saints - Family History Centres) have to be one of your best resources. These centres are open to the public, and you will always find the people there willing to help. They will carry most of these resources as well:

> The NZ Birth Death and Marriage Indexes

> The NZ Electoral Rolls

> The NZ Cemeteries fiche (NZSG)

These are really the basis for your facts and figures research in NZ. NZ bdm's are on fiche, and are organised by year. They show the individual's name, year of birth and a folio number. This number is what you quote when you order the certificate of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Lower Hutt.

Electoral Rolls let you track that family. These are sometimes on film and sometimes on fiche. I prefer fiche as they are a lot easier to do a multi-year search. If you are searching the country though, film is best. The concept is pretty basic. Once you have a fix on a location, you find the family in that electoral roll.

NZ Cemeteries fiche carry transcriptions of headstones in cemeteries throughout the country. Great to find a whole family!

My approach is pretty simple when tracking a family. First, if the name is farly uncommon, trawl through the bdms for any births (the folio number relates to a district, so this is handy). Write them down. Then go to the Electoral Rolls and find the family. When you have either the husband or wife disappear this may be a death. Go to the cemetery fiche and find the cemetery. Bingo!

Once you have a family, search the marriages for the children's marriages. Then repeat the Electoral Roll thing. Finally you will hit a living rellie that you can go and meet. Of course it is not always that simple. Some families move. Some families leave the country. Some families saw the Electoral Roll Officer heading their way and hid!

Other really handy resources are parish records (Canterbury area held in the Christchurch Library), Wises Directories and Local Histories. The ones with indexes are the best. And of course there is always the chance that someone else is researching the same family. There are lists of names submitted to the NZSG magazines (at your local library) and Genealogical Research Directories. Check these for names. You can join the NZSG and use their lending library. I joined, but never borrowed anything, and decided after three years that I may as well not be a member.

The other thing that is really helpful now is the net. Obviously you have access, so hey, use it! Click here to see some links that I use a lot. Another handy tool are internet mailing lists. I belong to the New Zealand one, and an Australia-New Zealand list. While I get about 100 emails a day through these two, they can take about 15 minutes to clear every night, and I have made contact with at least two other family members through the lists, and had some queries answered. My theory on belonging to these lists is that if you want some help you should offer some first. So if you see a lookup you can do, reply and do it. If you have some info, share it. Then ask for a favour!

I almost forgot - the most important thing.. the people! Everyone has something to contribute to your family history. Your parents, your grandparents, and my favourite - my aunts! You may find a treasure trove of photos, or family stories that really give flesh to the people. I started by writing to a few "older" relations, and while almost all of them said that they didn't know anything, once they start talking, you hear some fantastic things! Take notes, listen, and store their stories.

I guess the most important rule to remember is:

Start with the known then go to the unknown. Have fun!

Huffam Family History
Jacobsen Family History
Nicol Family History
Robinson Family History
Links Page
My Genealogy Gateway