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5 Genealogy Secrets

Megan Smolenyak found Obama’s Irish ancestry. Now she shares tips for shaking your family tree

Q: What are your top tips for tracing family history?
  1. Be methodical and organized. There's nothing more irritating than discovering the same thing twice because you kept sloppy records.

2. Search courthouse records, old newspapers, archives, and libraries. Not everything is online. Some of the best stories take a little more digging.

3. Don't forget about cemeteries. The true test of a "genie" is how excited they get about cemeteries, which can provide important information — not to mention, a fun field trip.

4. Don't take family lore as absolute truth. Use it as a theory and prove or disprove it. While there's often an element of truth, tales tend to morph across generations.

5. Connect with others. Use social networking to find those third cousins who have photos and other pieces of the family puzzle. You'll all have more fun!

Q: Why do you think so many people are interested in genealogy?
Part of it is the thrill of the hunt; you never know what you might find when you start digging. Genealogy also gives people a sense of belonging at a time we’ve become so mobile. And in hard times, when you know what your ancestors endured, you can remember that their blood flows in your veins, and draw strength from that.

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