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Simple Tips to Make Researching Your Family History Easier

Updated on June 20, 2016
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

Disclaimner

Although I've spent 35 years shaking our family tree to see what falls down, I do not claim to be an authority on the subject of genealogy. I've had no training but I've learned a lot - the hard way. If there is a recipe for successful genealogy research, it begins with one key ingredient - patience. Luck seems to run in spurts. I've spent weeks at the local library or pounding my keyboard and found nothing. But then, I've found these wonderful little nests of people that led me to another, and another, and another. Those are the days that make the others worthwhile.

For me, it all started with some old photographs. I couldn't get enough of them and would ask for them every time I visited relatives. it was the story about my third great grandmother that reeled me in to the research. Sure, everyone has a story about a grandma who was an Indian princess. Not me. In my family, grandma was an Indian and the whole family hated her for it. Her brother-in-law hated it so bad that he left town, changed his name, and another family tree was born. Being something of a rebel myself, it was all I needed to find the truth and the proof. Thirty years later, I'm no closer to knowing whether or not she was Indian but I have an abundance of new family stories to tell. Sure, I can look at the photo here and see Indian, if I use my imagination. Aren't those cheekbones higher and more prominent. Look at those eyes. Surely, they have some Indian in them. The painful truth is, after all these years, and all the records and stories I've collected, the only proof I can find that this grandma lived is a stone in a cemetery.

How to Get Started

Since this is my first entry here, I'll keep it simple. We'll start with the basics, or at least what I think are the basics.

Before you begin collecting data, invest in a software package that is designed for geneaology. The investment will be the single most important thing you do in your life as a family researcher. Besides keeping track of all your data, the software will enable you to run reports, print forms, save your data in formats acceptable for uploading to some of the major respositories of genealogy data, and more. Take the time to do the homework and select a software that meets your budget and your needs. I've been using Roots Magic for years but I've tried others. I've remained loyal to Roots Magic because the price is right and it does what I need. You might also take a look at Family Tree Maker, it's pretty popular among researchers.

What's The Next Step?

Now that you've decided to become a researcher, it's time to make some decisions. Oh how I wish I had done this in the beginning but I didn't have a clue. All I knew was that I wanted to trace our family and I just jumped right in. In retrospect, I've spent as much time undoing things I did wrong as I have researching. So, let's get started with an outline of decisions you'll need to make.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Who will use my research? Is it just for me, my family, or, will I want to publish it?
  • Will my research be limited to one side of my family or both?
  • How many generations will I cover?
  • Will I collect data on blood relatives only or will I collect data on their spouses too?

Easy enough, wasn't it? I'm sure your answers were pretty clear to you. I'll warn you now. Unless you are very disciplined or have a single purpose in mind for your research, you will probably be bitten by the family tree bug. Once it bites, you'll find it hard to pass any snippet of data without adding it to your database. That's because the more you research, the more ou'll find that if you dig far enough, we are all related.

Moving Forward

Go ahead and order your software. While you're waiting for it to arrive, start talking to relatives. Ask the following questions:

  1. Would you help by providing data on your family?
  2. Do you have photos you'll share?
  3. Can I interview you and record your stories?

If the answers are yes, don't waste a minute. Strike while the iron is hot. Schedule some time with your family to record their story or to go through the photos. Always, always, always take good care of their photographs and return them promptly after you scan them. If word gets out that you don't return them or damaged them, your research assistants will avoid you like the plaque. You'll be out there on your own shaking those trees and that's no fun at all.

It's also important to remember that not everyone in your family will share your enthusiasm. You'll need to accept that right from the beginning. It has taken me years to get information from some of my relatives because, well, to put it simply, it's my passion, not theirs. I'm always happy to get something from them, even if it's not what I wanted. Let them know you're grateful and they'll give you more.


Resources

Until you start, you won't realize how much information is available to you. To talk about where to get information, outside of your immediate family, is a topic for a blog all it's own. So for now, let's just say, the world, both virtual and digital, is your playground. Until you start, you can't imagine how much help there is available to you at no cost at all. If you have money to waste and don't want to do the work yourself, there are always professional researchers to help you out - for a fee. I'm writing this only to give you options but I really hope you'll find tracing your roots to be a rewarding adventure and that you'll keep in touch from time to time and let me hear your success stores.

For now, order your software, make your lists, schedule those interviews, and check back here often to get some more helpful hints on finding your roots.


© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

Read more of my hubs here.

Comments

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    Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

    Great points in your hub. I 've been researching for about 10 years and everything you say is true and more.

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    joaniebaby 5 years ago

    Great Hub. Hope you keep writing. I have started family researching several times, but then gave up. My husband always wanted me to do more. Lately I have checked the 1940 census and 1930 census records so maybe I'll get back to looking up more in earnest now.

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    Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

    I can fully relate to how long it takes to find a tiny tidbit of information, and then when you find it, sometimes it opens up a whole world and the information keeps flooding in until the next wall. You do have an intriguing family history, and the fact that they weren't enamored with having an American Indian in the family makes me think it is more likely to be true. I hope you can find out more about your grandma. Maybe a DNA test would help provide a clue.

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    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks MT. I've thought about the DNA test but you know, half the fun is wading through the data. Even when I don't find what I'm looking for, I usually discover something else that excites me. I look forward to sharing tips with you.

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    tigresosal 4 years ago

    Great hub on researching family trees. I do not know much about my ancestors. Do not have enough resources and ideas to go for such information. Glad that at least I have an idea on from where to start. Thanks for sharing such information.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello tigresosal. I am sorry for this delayed response. I don't know how I missed your comment but obviously I did. I hope this article helped you get started. Even with one name, the Internet can provide a wealth of information. Go to familysearch.org and plug in a name. You might be surprised what you find. Good luck to you!

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