Tracing Your Family Tree – Getting Started in Genealogy
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I was thinking of great family projects for 2010 and I thought about how great it would be to research ones own family history. For many reasons, it is important to know about your family background. It can give you and your family a sense of who you are and where you’ve come from. It can also be important because knowing how your ancestors died could have an effect on your own medical history. If you’re not sure what you need to get started in genealogy, here are some tips to get started.
First off, you will need to have some basic office supplies available when you get started. File folders can be used to keep any blank charts you’ll need; they can also be used to keep your ancestors organized. Start a file folder for each surname you find during your search. When it is too full, you can always separate the information further.
If you’d rather not keep everything you gather in paper form, you can invest in good genealogy software such as Roots Magic 3, Family Tree Maker or Legacy Family Tree 7.0 Deluxe. These will range in price between $30 and $100. You can also find free software, such as Personal Ancestral File 5.2 or Family Tree Builder 4.0.
The important thing to remember is to keep things organized, no matter which method you choose to keep notes on your family members. Be prepared, however, as you may find delving into your family background so interesting that it takes over a good amount of space in your home.
Go to a place like Ancestry.com or to find free printable pedigree charts or other forms which will help you keep your information organized. Adobe Acrobat is generally used for most forms so you can print off as many as you need. You can download Adobe Reader for free if you don’t have it from the Adobe website.
Consider getting a small tape recorder. Spend some time with older family members and ask them to tell you as much as they can about your family. This can be great fun and a great opportunity for your kids to interview their Grandparents, Great Aunts, Uncles, etc. Have your kids ask them about when they were growing up. What did their father or mother do to make a living? What stories can they remember that their parents or grandparents told them? They may be able to find old family Bibles, photographs, or other paperwork which will make your search easier.
If your family members have birth certificates, deeds, baptism certificates, or marriage certificates, ask them if you can borrow them to make copies. You can return the originals and still have something to verify information you’ve received.
Access to the internet can also be important when you need to get started in genealogy. The internet is a wealth of information. There are many websites which offer search capabilities to help you find elusive family members. They also have articles and helpful information to make finding your family something you can do and enjoy.
If you’re starting down the genealogy road, it can be a little discouraging when you get stuck. Start with what you know – your own information and that of your parents, grandparents, etc. – and then work further into the past to find other information. Once you know what you need to get started in genealogy, it’s a matter of pulling what you know together and then finding out what you don’t know.
Tracing Your Family History
There’s only so much you can do to find information about your ancestors from using old family records, newspapers, and such. Sometimes you have to search elsewhere, particularly if you’ve run into a road block. Finding information on your family ancestors online is one way to get past those road blocks and get back on track.
Obviously you’ll need to have a starting place when you’re searching for your family online. You may have a list of names, birth and death dates, and places of birth or death. These are a great place to begin, no matter how you go about finding your ancestors.
Obituaries are printed for everyone who passes away. If your loved one passed away after 1962, you can search the Social Security Death Index to determine exact date of death. The index will provide the person’s birth date, death date, and the place they last resided. You may also want to try Genealogy Bank which has obituaries from over 1100 newspapers dating as far back at 1977.
If you already have some information about family members from the past, you may want to search for them on other online websites. Some genealogy websites are free to access and those might be the best place to start looking if you’re new to genealogy. After you’ve learned more about your family you may want to sign up for a subscription on the membership-based genealogy sites.
Free genealogy websites you may want to check out when finding information on your family ancestors include:
Each of these websites will provide you with great search functions as well as give you information on the best methods to search for your family online. Many of the genealogy websites also have forums where people can ask for information from people around the world.
Be ready to pay a little money. The better known genealogy websites require paid membership. These include Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com, WorldVitalRecords.com, and OneGreatFamily.com. These paid websites can be as little as $3.33 per month or as much as $24.95 per month depending upon if you choose to access to files in the United States or worldwide. Normally you will be billed annually for your membership.
If you’re not sure a paid membership site is right for you, most of them have trial memberships between one and two weeks. That will give you ample time to do some searching, find information that will be helpful in locating your family members, and let you know if there is a need to sign up.
As with any attempt at finding information on your family ancestors online, be sure to spell their name correctly. If you’re having problems finding them, you may want to consider that the surname (last name) may have changed over time. Try variations of spellings to ensure you find the people you’re looking for.
Planning a Genealogy Research Vacation
Many people think genealogy is nothing more than staring at microfilm or microfiche, pouring over old dusty books in courthouses, or searching the internet to find lost family members. The truth is, genealogical research can be more than that. In fact, you can learn how to plan a genealogy research vacation which can make your family’s history come alive.
Look through your genealogy records. Check to see if there are particular locations common to your ancestors. Then choose that location and plan your vacation around it. Be sure to take paper, pen, and camera with you when you go so you can document your findings.
Try to locate long-lost cousins or other family members at the place you go. You may find someone who can add to the information you already know. They may even be able to provide you with information, names, or dates you didn’t know. And what’s better than filling in your pedigree chart and finding family you didn’t know before?
You may also want to visit the courthouse, library, or historical societies in the area. There you may be able to find a wealth of information which can lead you further down your family’s history. Or, you may be able to get copies of certificates (birth, marriage, death) for family members, which will verify what you know.
Plan a trip to local cemeteries while you’re there. Look for the headstones to the graves of family members and take photographs of each one. Gravestones usually provide birth and death dates. Another thing to consider when visiting cemeteries is that in the past families were often buried together. This may mean you can find people who are related to your ancestors that you never knew about.
Take careful notes or use an audio or video recorder or camera to help you remember things. If you’re looking through books or films, be sure to write down the call number of the microfilm, page number of any book you use, and the library you got the information from. Make photocopies of anything you can to take the information home with you.
Be prepared by knowing who it is you’re looking for, bringing the information you already have with you, and know when any buildings (courthouse, library, historical society, etc.) will be open while you’re there. Do as much research as you can before you leave so you know where you want to go, when you have to be there, and know exactly what you’re looking for when you arrive.
If you have children, don’t forget to do something fun while you’re on the hunt for long-lost family members. They may be bored, so bring something they can do to keep them occupied or see if you can get them to help you look. One goal is to learn what you can about your family but not to alienate your family that is with you in the process. Besides, after spending so much time looking for dead members of your family, you’ll be glad to spend time with the ones that are still living. Many adult adoptees fear reuniting with their biological parents because they don’t know what to expect.
Remember to plan ahead as much as possible. This would include hotel stays if you don’t have living family at a location. When you learn how to plan a genealogy research vacation and take time for fun along the way, you may find your children also become interested enough in their family history to help you in your search.
Digging into your family history can not only be fun, but can help bring the whole family together. For kids it offers a great opportunity to learn about where they came from and give a new perspective and appreciation for how they themselves became to be.