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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Readin', Writin' and History?
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 26, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Yes, I know that the three Rs as they were often referred to in school and nursery rhymes did not contain history, but somehow I think that for genealogists, it should be RWH. Not nearly as catchy, this is true, but ever more useful to a genealogist.

I have often mentioned how diverse genealogical research is. We must have an understanding of so many things such as legal terms and medical terms. We trace through records not just over a few years but over centuries.

Genealogists get submerged in reading, writing and history.


The reading of course is what we must do all the time. We read published family histories. We read e-mail messages from fellow researchers. More importantly we read through many handwritten records. We find ourselves having to retain knowledge about obscure forms of handwriting so that when we do get to those records in the 1700s, we will remember that an "F" could be an "S."

As genealogists, we read as long as our eyes hold up and our spouses let us keep the lights on (which is a good reason for making sure the computer is far away from the bedroom). We read until the words, names and dates begin to swim before us. And then we read some more. And when we get done reading?

Then we write.


Sometimes that writing is actually done with pen (it should be pencil) in hand. Other times we use our computer keyboards to do the writing as our fingers fly over the keys sharing generations with cousins and potential cousins.

Sometimes our writing is the notes we make during our research phase. It may be the information we include on pedigree charts or family group sheets. It may be our presentation of the family history that we share online or through a family history book.

So where does the history come in?


Some would tell you that it doesn't. However, I am a firm believer that you cannot effectively search your family without remembering that the word "history" is in "family history". The history that our ancestors lived through did actually affect them. I know that this is hard for some to believe, but it is true. The history of the time period had a direct affect on their lives. It affected their livelihood. It affected their decision to move across town or across the country. And it can directly affect your research.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to read up on the history of your given towns, counties and states where your ancestors live. And as your ancestors move through the generations and through the country, you will want to remember to familiarize yourself with the history of the new area.

History doesn't mean just the big things either. While we all know about wars and battles, there are very often local historical events that affect your ancestors lives even more so. Droughts and other natural catastrophes would have had a direct, and perhaps destructive, affect on the lives of your ancestor and his family. Epidemics could almost completely wipe out communities. And it could explain why your ancestor has a completely new family within a very short time.

In Conclusion

So, remember, that while genealogy and family history is great fun, there are a few of those old school teachings that will be of help to you. And you thought you would never need to use that stuff.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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