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Make a Family Tree

Updated on September 2, 2015

You Need Information

Where to Start

Making a family tree has become a national pastime in the last few years as well as a lucrative industry.

But building a family tree isn’t as easy as advertising depicts. To build one correctly takes time and patience…lots of patience. It’s not something you can throw together and forget about. It’s an ongoing work in progress. Unless you’ve traced your family back to the Garden of Eden, there’s always one more person to add somewhere on your charts.

The internet has simplified building a family tree immensely. In the past, serious genealogy researchers went broke buying new shoes, gas and stamps.

You say, “Well, that’s all good and well, but I don’t know where to start.” It starts with you and your immediate family. Basically what you need is information. Contact as many relatives as possible and collect whatever information they have. For each person you add to your tree you will need name, nickname if applicable, date and place of birth, date and place of death, marriage date and place, maiden names, burial location and date. It’s also a good idea to have a brief history of individuals such as any military service or events of special note like “Nobel Prize” recipient. (Tongue in cheek humor.) Also try and get decent photos of each person.

Since family trees are made mostly online today, you will need a computer, scanner, printer and internet access. Your next step is to choose what genealogy program you will use. There are many available, some at cost and others free. Experienced researchers advise beginning with a free online program. Once you get the hang of how software programs work you can opt to buy one later.

However, just because it’s a free program doesn’t mean it’s not good. There are some excellent free programs. Here are two popular choices. and Look at each and determine which has the features you like best. One feature they have in common is when a birth date and name corresponds with any other on their vast data base of users you will be notified. Usually you can learn of other researchers who have common ancestry and compare notes. This is a valuable tool that will save you hours of research and money. Both programs have step by step instructions but you will still need to experiment a little to get the feel of how they work.

Free Software

Another free program of note is Legacy. It doesn’t have photo capability and is not kept on a server but is kept on your computer hard drive. It will allow you to print out your entire tree in report form or a choice of other formats. And it’s a good idea to have your data backed up

Now you’re ready to begin. Always start at the bottom and work backwards. Follow this rule or you’ll join the ranks of those who have had to start their trees over from scratch.

There are several ways to find information on your family. Again, a few, very few, won’t cost you anything. Other sites will. A no-cost example of finding relatives is using genealogy forums such as GenForum or RootsWeb. Browse through the surname message forums. You may find someone who’s looking for the same information or already has it. You can also post a message. Hopefully someone will get in contact.

An example of a paid site is Ancestry.Com which has numerous search engines to browse census, social security, marriage and other records. The Church of Latter Day Saints has a free data base for researchers. There are others but these are a good places to start.

Once you have names you might want to put photos with them. Most programs will allow you to attach them. However you most likely will need to scan your pictures to your computer first.

This brings us to another topic. What if your pictures are damaged and need to be repaired. Don’t panic! There are a number of excellent free photo retouching and repair programs you can download online. PhotoEditor is a good all-in-one utility. Photo- pos pro and Portablefotosketcher are two more. It is advisable to download several programs since you can use them in conjunction with each other to get the best results. For extremely damaged pictures you should use a program like Retouch Pilot. It’s great for repairing tears and deep scratches. Also, before downloading any of these programs make sure they are compatible with your computer’s operating system.

No “How To” guide will teach you everything about this fascinating pastime. Face it, you’ll just have to jump in and get your feet wet. But hopefully this guide should help you get a good start. Happy Hunting!


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thank you!

    • technorican profile image

      technorican 7 years ago from Houston

      I really like the eye-catching image at the top of your blog. It's like a direct connect to the mind and preps it for your words.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Appreciate the comments well as the support. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Ron 7 years ago

      I did much of my research the old-timey way: National Archives microfilm rental and library film-readers. Eventually, I started just buying the reels from companies that made copies of the films, and bought my own reader. Enter computers and Internet, and all that was made pretty much obsolete! I now use and highly recommend Likewise, I make the most of queries placed on Genforum and Rootweb.

      Great hub here and just voted it up on SheToldMe, as here also.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 7 years ago from Washington MI

      Very useful information. One of my uncles is doing a a family history search and I will pass some of this information onto him. I think he is spending a fortune using all the paid sites, when he could be using the free ones first and get results. Great topic for a hub!