Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Family Tree Basics

Let's say you are interested in beginning your family tree but you are unsure where to start. You know something about the family, maybe have some old photographs, an old newspaper clipping about your grandparents' marriage, but where do you turn? There are a number of basic steps that you can take.

1. Gather everything you can about your family. Old papers, letters, photographs and documents. Check with relatives to see if they have anything to share. You can always photocopy papers and photographs and return them later. Having copies ensures the survival of those old records. You might ask if there is a family bible. Maybe an old family bible will contain the dates of birth, marriage and death for several generations of family members. Review all this information, trying to find the vital information about where and when each member of the family was born, married or died, as well as information regarding their occupations, whether there are any surviving photographs of them, and basically any clues that could help you move further back in time.

2. Discuss what you are doing with your family members. If you are lucky, some older family members are still alive that can provide information about their early lives, where they lived as children, who their siblings were named and what became of them. Ask them about where the family was from, what their parents' names were (including middle names if possible), and anything that can fill in the gaps you have about the family. And don't forget to ask if anyone in the family is tracing the family tree! We are everywhere and if you have a cousin or uncle who has already done a lot of the legwork for you, then you are in luck. Just make sure you check their information for accuracy.

3. Organize the information you now have. You can learn more about downloading various family tree charts and family group sheets in another article at GenTips. Basically they allow you to see the information about each individual or family group and what needs to be found. Maybe you have the date of your great-grandfather's death, but you notice that you haven't got anything about when or where he was born, or you don't have the date of your grandparents' marriage. These forms are a handy way to see where you are in your research and where you want to proceed. As well, having the vital information in one place will lessen the amount of loose paperwork you will have to tote around. One thing about this hobby is that it can generate a lot of paperwork.

4. One thing you might want to do if you are just starting out in genealogy is to concentrate on pursuing one family line at a time. Of course when we begin tracing our family tree we can begin trying to trace the ancestry of both of our parents and all four of our grandparents. The problem is that if you try to trace them all at the same time, it can get very confusing, especially for someone new to family history research. What you should do is work one line at a time. Maybe find information about your father's family, and then his father. Then move back to his father, and so on. As you gather more and more information and become more familiar with the various types and locations of information available to you, you can branch out into other lines.

5. Now it's time to start checking around the Internet. The amount of information you will need to wade through is incredible so take your time and check and re-check the information you turn up. Make sure you cite your sources. You need to know where the information came from and others will want to confirm your information as well. There are numerous message boards and databases that you can check from your own home. Ask questions and read up on this fascinating hobby.

6. Look for your ancestors' birth, marriage and death records. These records are usually kept at the state and county level, making searching for these vital records both easier and in some cases, extremely difficult. Recording of this information may not have been required at the time of the event. Your great-grandfather might have been born a year or two before births started to be recorded in the state he was born, so you might need to look for alternate birth information like a baptism record.

7. Review census records for the place your ancestor lived ~ and write down everything. See if there are indexes and read those too. Check for cemetery transcriptions for where they were buried and always look for others buried nearby with the same last name. You will be surprised when something you wrote on a scrap of paper turns out to be an important clue. Look for land deeds and records, wills, immigration and naturalization records, newspaper obituaries and articles. And check the Internet again. More and more records come online daily.

8. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Now go back and try to find more on your mother's side. But by this time you will probably be just as addicted to researching your family tree as the rest of us and won't need to be told to continue with your search.

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