Friday, April 16, 2010

Focus on Barry Ewell

(Note: The Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group will feature Barry Ewell in a seminar on 8 May 2010, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 875 Quince Avenue, Santa Clara, California. Information, maps, and directions are at )

By Janet Brigham

Barry Ewell's middle initial is J, but it might as well be F for Focus. Although a relative newcomer to genealogy circles, his emphasis on focus and effective organization has launched him into a position of prominence among presenters.

Barry is part of a team preparing to launch a new website designed to make genealogy research more accessible and easier to share. Most of the material on the dot-com site will be free, including some 40,000 how-to articles, 2,500 videos, a million links, and 10,000 maps covering the 1600s to early 1900s. The team's goal has been to make information easy to find and use. Barry brings his own experiences to the development of the website.

His interest in collecting family histories dates to the late 1990s, when he began doing family research at his mother's encouragement. He collected numerous oral histories before commencing any lineage research. He spent time studying local newspapers and histories to acquaint himself with the communities in which his ancestors lived.

He "regathered the record" of the branches of his family by picking a point in time for a key ancestor (such as 1860), tracking each descending family line, and gathering information from each line. The reason for this is that when an ancestor dies, his or her documents, artifacts, and information are subdivided among descendants and others. As this process continues across generations, the record disperses, and must be regathered to become as complete as possible.

This systematic, organized, and fruitful approach to conducting family history research is the hallmark of his presentations. By collecting recommendations and methods from mentors and experts, he has developed a list of the top 20 things new and experienced genealogists can do to foster successful research.

The top item? Focus. Focus on one ancestor, one question, one generation. Learn everything you can about the community in which they lived. "Learn the circle of life they lived within,"
he urges. "The clues are rarely in a record, but are in the community."

And the top 20 things a genealogist should learn? Here goes:

1. Verify, verify, verify data you receive.
2. Document your sources.
3. Check multiple sources.
4. Hit a brick-wall? Be patient and persistent.
5. Talk to your family—NOW!
6. Share your time, research and interest.
7. Organize your data.
8. Learn about your ancestors.
9. Keep your genealogy research focused.
10. Expect the unexpected.
11. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
12. Bring ancestors to life with photographs.
13. Effectively use the message boards.
14. There are many ways to spell your last name.
15. Conduct field research.
16. Learn to read old script.
17. Back up your data.
18. Use genealogy software.
19. Learn to use the census.
20. Learning genealogy is a process.