Here’s a list of the top 16 genealogy supplies you’ll need to successfully complete your family tree.
- Pencils – Why pencils, you may ask. Well the reason, you’ll need pencils is that you will need to be able to erase names from your tree if they turn out to be incorrect. Mistakes are inevitable in genealogy but not permanent. As you gather more information on a person, it may turn out that you’ve stumbled upon a person with the exact same name but who belongs in another tree altogether! Always pencil in the names on your family tree until you are 100% certain. This usually means having 3 different sources that put that name in that spot on your tree. Of course you can always use pens for many of your notes. It’s a good idea to keep a lot of general office supplies on hand too. Sticky notes are particularly handy.
- Recording device – a recording device is really important for when you start to do interviews. Older cassette recorders will do fine, but newer digital devices are handy because they are much smaller and easier to tote around. Always be sure your interviewee is willing to be recorded! It’s just good manners and creates good will by asking.
- Extra batteries – Always carry extra batteries to all your interviews. There is nothing worse than lining up your interview, driving to your destination, setting up your equipment, testing it and discovering it won’t work because your batteries are dead. You’ve wasted your time and that of your relatives.
- Paper clips – I mention paper clips particularly because there will be very old photos that you will not want to staple and ruin. Paper clips allow you to clip together a number of important pieces (photos, birth certificates, and old letters) without piercing them so they are great to have on hand, especially if you are just borrowing them. The person lending them to you will appreciate your respect of their treasured heirlooms.
- Patience – Though not an essential item, you’ll find that patience will help because there will be times that it takes longer to set up interviews, hunt down old relatives, locate graveyards and the many other things you’ll do will take longer than you had hoped. A little bit of patience will serve you well until that logjam breaks and things start to run smoothly again.
- Talkative Relatives – It’s a great help to have talkative relatives. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have any though. There are other ways to find out all the information you need. It’s just easier and more fun if you approach all your relatives for information – yes – even the scary ones! You never know what you may learn.
- Paper/Notepads – Make sure that you have lots of extra paper for your printer and notepads for interviews. Notepads for interviews are important, even if you are recording the interview and will be crucial if the person does not want to be recorded. Don’t’ just assume everyone is OK with it and take only the recorder – that would be a tragic mistake.
- Family Tree – This is what you are working toward completing, but what style will you use? There are a number of different formats that may interest you. You can get many free ones online as well as pay to have a very stylized, artistic one done. There are a lot of options for how you will ultimately showcase your family tree. Most trees are limited though to about four generations.
- Internet Connection – This is another nice to have item that will make your genealogy search easier. But, like many things – it is not essential for genealogy. Remember – genealogy was done long before the internet. It was just slower and involved more trips. I have a relative that did it the old fashioned way, trooping through old graveyards, and court records for marriage certificates. If you don’t have an internet connection, though – libraries do and you can always do your research from there. You may even be reading this from a library internet connection.
- Software – There are all kinds of software available on the market. Things to look for include ability to add multi-media presentations, flexibility and universality. Look also for the ability to export your data in GEDCOM format.
- Organization – This should be considered an essential item because you will need it. As time passes, you will have an ever increasingly large amount of information that needs to be stored in a logical way in case you need to refer back to it. If you don’t currently have this skill, now is the time to learn it. It’s not too hard, just don’t let your papers pile up until the task is so large you don’t want to do it. Organize as you go. Find a system that works for you so that you will know where to look for information when you need it (i.e., when you need to cross-reference one person’s information with another of the same or similar name.)
- Scanner – A scanner is really nice to have because records can be digitalized and kept safer for much longer on your home computer. However, there are also now portable scanners which would be a great item to take to all your interviews. Sometimes you’ll stumble across a relative that has a ton of stuff you would like to copy so a scanner is nice to have. It can be especially helpful if your relative does not want their irreplaceable documents leaving their home.
- Binders – Binders are a great way to keep all your material organized. Don’t three hole punch items though. Get pockets for any items that you may want to store in a binder.
- Computer – A computer is a nice to have item, but not entirely essential. Remember, genealogy was done long before the invention of the computer.
- Logs, logs, and more logs – As part of your search, you’ll find a need for a number of different logs that are commonly used by genealogists. There’s the interview log to help you keep track of who you’ve talked to and who’s up next, the census log, and family record logs to name a few.
- Dogged determination – Although I’ve listed this last, it’s not the least important item. There will come a time when you’ve pushed a long way back, but suddenly reach a grinding halt. In genealogy it’s known as hitting a brick wall. There are some people who search 20 years for a single “lost” relative. Now that’s determination. It may never pay off, but the thrill is in the hunt anyway because there is such immense satisfaction if it does. If it never does, the journey is just as fun because you’ll meet so many interesting people, relatives and non-relatives alike. Genealogy is truly a lifetime hobby for everyone.