Tracing Your Family History
Are you in search of tracing back your ancestry, bringing your family closer together, and maybe even tracking down distance relatives?
Genealogy can be an incredible journey into your family history – one in which the learning never ends. A beginner may be searching for the meaning of their last name or wanting to learn more about one of their ancestors. A more experienced researcher loves the challenge of exploring new horizons. Once you acquire the basic knowledge, it can become a life long hobby. It can even become an obsession. Finding that first document or discovering the first member in your family tree is exciting and then you are hooked.
A key for any genealogist doing family history research is knowing how and where to search. Without this skill, you may become frustrated, aggravated, and just end up spinning out of control. Therefore, learn the basics on family history research, how to make sense of what you uncover, how to organize and record the information you collect and even how to use the Internet to discover more about your ancestors. Today, the internet is a terrific and highly recommended tool for family history research.
Below are some of the more common genealogy questions and the answers you need to get started in pursuit of your family heritage. This is what research is all about! Some of the same questions keep coming up, especially among newcomers who are starting to trace their family history.
How do I begin to search for my family tree? Determine what information you already have. Even a little information can get you started. Perhaps you have some old photographs, papers, documents, newspaper clippings, obituaries or a family bible with records of births, marriages and deaths. Start with you, your spouse and children. You will need full names, dates, place of birth, and your parent’s full name. Then you will want to do the same for your spouse. Remember to add the date and place of your marriage. Then record the information for each of your children. If they are married, add spouse and children to their family line. Once you have recorded all this material, it will be time to move on to the next generation. Keep in mind, what you learn about your family heritage is more important than how many generations back you can take your family tree.
Should I question other family members for clues? Yes, interview or otherwise communicate with your relatives; they can be a wealth of information. Start with your mother, father, and move backwards from there. This can be the most important step in researching your family tree. Be sure to connect with as many of your living relatives as possible, one day they may not be around and you would have missed a wonderful opportunity to pick their brain. Therefore, give them a call; send them an email or letter to explain what you are doing and asking for their help. You may be able to setup an appointment to meet or to discuss it by phone. Occasionally, time and distance make email or letters a more practical choice. Since this information is critical to your research, do not hurry through it. When working with others, be considerate and accommodating to work around their schedule. Collect names, dates and listen to their stories. Family stories begin with memories that can provide clues for further research. Be sure to ask specific questions. The best questions are open-ended ones. Avoid asking yes or no questions. Here are a few sample questions:
• What is your full name?
• Do you have a nickname?
• When and where were you born?
• What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
• When and where were they born? Their occupations?
• What is your earliest childhood memory?
• When and how did you meet your spouse?
• Where and when did you get married?
• What did you do for a living?
• What school did you attend and how many years?
When interviewing a relative it is important to become a good listener. Having a tape recorder available is a way to listen to the stories and pay attention; letting them know you are interested.
How do I obtain vital records? It was not until the early 1900’s that the United States started keeping vital records. However, you can obtain birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, naturalization, adoption and land records for each state, territory and county of the United States. Vital records usually contain the full name of the individual involved in the event, the date of the event, and the county, state, or town where the event took place. If you have internet access (highly recommended), visit vitalrec.com, they have a guideline on how to order the information.
Some important tips to keep in mind:
1. Keep copies of everything you find in your research. It may not seem significant now, but it probably will be in the future.
2. Make sure that you take into account possible alternate spellings of your surname as you are doing your researching.
How do I make a family tree? The definition of a family tree is a chart or table that shows the line of descent from an ancestor or earlier form, especially that of a specific person or family. You can download, view, save and print a variety of free family charts and forms. These include traditional standard family tree charts, fan and pedigree charts. Standard forms for collecting and documenting the family’s history include a family tree chart tracing paternal lines only, a family group sheet that documents all the facts of each family member, and family chart illustrating a family’s structure and process through multiple generations.
What are some different ways to do research free?
• Free Genealogy Websites is a good place to search for your ancestors. Go to Google.com and type in Free Genealogy Websites.
• Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet–has 270,000 + link for family history and other valuable information.
• Olive tree Genealogy: Your Link to the Past. They have a Guide for Beginner’s in Genealogy that newbies may find helpful. Newcomers and experienced researchers will want to browse their immigrant ships passenger list at the Ships Passenger Lists Section. Olive Tree allows you to search for immigrant passengers on ships list: by country of arrival, by state of arrival, or by ethnic group. In addition, you will find other Genealogy and Family Tree Resources at this website. Be sure to take advantage of all the information.
• Public Library — Utilize the staff at the libraries. Librarians can be a great help in suggesting additional sources of information about your family. They can immediately direct you to resources that will provide answers to your search if you explain to them what you need. It is their job to know where the resources are located.
• Genealogical Society-your family history center or local public library may be aware of genealogical societies that meet in your area. These societies frequently offer classes and special presentations, and some provide mentoring.
• Local Courthouse–research how to find family information through documents such as deeds; wills; birth, marriage, and death certificates.
As you know, it can be a lot of work trying to trace your family tree. Take advantage of all the resources out there. Do the preliminary research by gathering all the documents, family photographs, newspaper clippings, etc. available to you. Interview your relatives by asking specific questions and remember to take good notes. Once you have gathered a significant amount of information, the next step will be to organize it in a useable form. Personally, I believe this is easier with a computer. However, it is possible to do it manually too. Once you acquire the basics and move beyond the novice, genealogy becomes fun, interesting, exciting and even a lifelong hobby. It may even become an obsession. Enjoy this incredible adventure of tracing your family history.