Genealogy: Getting Started with Your Family Tree
Where Do You Begin?
This is a hobby that is truly enjoyable. It really isn't that hard, once you get started. It is sort of like a huge jig saw puzzle, and at times lots of pieces fall into place, and at other times you are stumped where a piece will fit.
I remember sitting at my computer wondering to myself where to start. I hope that this will be a starting point for those of you who wish to start looking for your family connections. The main thing is to have fun and enjoy the things you will discover. Information comes from all sort of cool places. The trick is to use them, and create your own family story. Every family has a unique story. The key to unlocking some of these stories is up to you.
1. Talk with other family members
I wish I had listened to many of the stories my mother, grand mother, and others had always seem to enjoy telling me as I was growing up. I, however, was only half listening. In later years, these sources have passed on, and I am playing catch up. I sat down and wrote down what I could remember. Then I visited or called my nearest relatives to chat about these stories. I guess I figured maybe someone else was paying attention, and in most cases, I was right. The fun thing I discovered about chatting with the family, was even if some of the stories couldn't be confirmed, they were actually fun to listen too. In my case, I may never be able to prove with documentation that my great grand father used to eat Sunday dinners with Jesse James and his brother, but I could confirm he was a preacher and traveled to many near by residents homes for meals. I discovered it doesn't matter what the story is, if you sit and listen, you learn things, and realize the colorful past your family used to have. The main thing is to write everything down, or voice record it, so you can go back to it at some point.
Your family will also provide you with names and dates of past family members. This is a very good starting point. Mainly, because it gives you people to start looking up. Who are they connected to and how? It's ok if your family can't remember certain things, but if they can give you names, you are on your way to discovering things. Sometimes there might not be names, so that's when alittle creativity comes into play.
2. The Internet
The Internet can be your best friend in finding out information about your family. It's just knowing where to look. When I started, I just typed in people's names to see what would pop up. Sometimes, I would find something, many times I would not. The key thing to remember is that we all leave paper trails. Even our ancestors left them. It could be a birth or death record, a public sale, adoption, or a simple newspaper article written about a family reunion, or social event.
There are many websites that can help you along your quest. The "Big Boys" are sites like Census.com, USGenWeb, Ancestory.com, Genealogy.com, etc... Many of these sites have message boards. If you cruise these boards you sometimes will hook up with family members you never knew you had, sometimes they are looking for your information, and sometimes have information you can add to your side of the hunt. Keep in mind though, sometimes you will run into a not so friendly family member you never met. Do not harrass them for information. This will get you no where. Be friendly and respectful at all times. Also keep in mind, that some of these websites require you to join to access information. If you don't want to pay for a service, you need to find other places to look.
Most people will use the Church of Latter Day Saints, website to look up information. I don't, but mainly because I don't have too. There is a wealth of information out there. Just keep in mind that every puzzle piece you find needs to have supporting documentation behind it. ie. Census records, birth or death certificate information, etc... Just because you think you find a connection on a message board, doesn't mean their information is entirely correct either. Remember, they are searching for missing pieces as well. You don't want to add an entire section of family you think is related to you, then discover they aren't related to you at all. This happens alot.
Use the Internet to your advantage. In my case, I used the message boards frequently, hooked up with actual relatives, and have recieved and shared some pretty awesome pictures, and documents, I would have never had if I hadn't used the Internet.
3. Libraries, Community Museums, Historical Societies
Some libraries have awesome Genealogy departments, and have set up websites for people to explore. These are great places to visit. They have books you can go over such as actual census records, death records, year books from schools, etc... I always take some cash with me, so I can scan what I find. It is a small price for some of the treasures I have found.
I also discovered that in the county I grew up, the local museum had a huge genealogy department. This particular museum has file cabinets in rows, with massive family information people have provided throughout the years. Plus they had a Microfiche for death records, etc... If I looked around at the exhibits, I even found items that were donated from family members. Now, this doesn't mean your local museum will have this, but it is worth checking out to see what they do have. Your local government offices will have public records on family members as well.
Use everything you think you can and ask lots of questions. The people who work at these places will usually tell you very useful information. (Especially when you are stumped on something). Historical societies are great for answering questions. Check everything out, because everything is a lead.
4. Software Programs
You can do this many different ways. To organize what you find, a software program to list your names is helpful. My favorite is Family Tree Maker, but there are many other brands out there you can use. Find one that suits your needs, and what you want it to do.
I found alot of useful tools on EBAY, believe it or not. Very good software to look for is Henshaw's Encyclopedia on Quakers. The Quakers kept very good records of their families within the church. If you are lucky enough to have a Quaker descendant, your family information will grow in huge amounts over night. Other things I found were church books, and Census record software. It is amazing what you can find even on websites you think might not have anything to offer. EBAY was a good place, because software costs money, and I didn't want to spend a fortune.
5. Visit Grave Yards
This one sounds alittle morbid, but graveyards, actually have alot of useful information. You will find birth dates, death dates, people buried next to your loved one(s) who are related, etc...
The nice thing about old grave yards, is that entire families tended to be buried together there. So keep every option open. Because a name you do not recognize could be a key in connecting your puzzle pieces.
Learning about your family should be fun. Take one step at a time, and document everything you find. You might want to write down names of people you spoke with, etc... Little things like this might seem time consuming, but you will be more credible, and you can reference back to these people or things alot easier.
I wish the best of luck to all who decide to discover their origins. There are so many things that were not mentioned, but I hope I provided a beginning point. Good Luck! Genealogy is not confusing. You will be amazed at the colorful story your family has to tell.