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How to Begin and Expand Your Family Tree with

Updated on October 19, 2013
My great-great-grandparents
My great-great-grandparents

How My Family Tree Search Began

I was Googling my name one day and came across a relative's family tree that had me listed with enough correct information to make me think that there was some validity to the family connections in the tree. I was immediately hooked.

Up until that time, I had never even really considered doing a family tree. I knew who my parents were. I knew who my grandparents and great-grandparents were. The rest just didn't seem that important - until I saw my name listed under that tree for a Ralph Blankenship who immigrated to Virginia from England.

The problem I had (and I suspect most Caucasians have whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations) was that I wasn't sure of anything. Did my ancestors come from England, really? I finally had a definitive answer to this question, thanks to a free Internet search.

Admittedly, most of my early work on my family tree was done with free searching. But I soon hit some dead ends - dead ends that would have been conveniently opened up with's databases, but I had to be a member. I signed up for the free two-week trial and let my membership carry on for a couple of years.

Now I've made some decent progress with my tree. I've gone about 20-30 generations back, and I've collected over 5000 names. Also, at this time, I have no steady income and two small children to take care of, so the Ancestry membership is a luxury I simply cannot afford.

Still, if you can afford it, it's a great way to start and expand your tree. It helped me tremendously. And this is how it can help you, too.

This Is What You See When You First Log on to the Site

Start With What You Know

The first thing you should know is your own name. So that's where you start. In the boxes right above the big orange "Start My Tree" rectangle, you will notice that the website is asking you to fill in your first and last names. Do this, and then click on the orange rectangle. This will take you to another page, with the outline of a family tree.

You'll now notice that there are boxes to add both your father's name and your mother's name. Keep in mind, though, that the site is asking for your mother's maiden name - not her married name. This is also true of you, if you are a married female - put in your maiden, not married, name. Chances are good that you know the names of either one or both of your parents, so you can fill this information in now.

In this example, I'm starting with my father's name.

Then You Get to This Screen

Yes, Basically Is Just Trying to Get Your Email

How else can they continue to send you sales pitches if you don't give them your information? But, if you're really serious about starting your family tree, giving your email address is so worth it.

Next, You'll See This Screen

Start Filling In Your Tree

This screen is pretty self-explanatory. Just put in your mother's and/or father's names, and go from there. If you know your grandparents' names, add them. has an extensive collection of records from all over the world, but they have a disclaimer saying that you will get the best results if you have someone in your tree who was born before 1930. For me, that means I have to go back to my grandparents.

I enter my paternal grandfather's name and birth and death dates in the box, and then I notice a green leaf appearing next to his name. When I put the mouse cursor over the green leaf, I notice that it shows that there are four Ancestry hints related to his name. What is an Ancestry hint? It's a link to some form of record to that person. In this case, the four hints are: links to information in 8 member trees (which can be a really good thing. I'll explain this later.); his records in the Kentucky Death Index and the Social Security Death Index; and his entry in the Kentucky Birth Index.

The information in the Kentucky Birth Index (if your ancestors were born in Kentucky, as mine were) is especially important if you do not know the maiden names of your female ancestors. Mothers in this index are listed under their maiden names. So, if I hadn't known my great-grandmother's maiden name already (which I did), this would have told me what it was.

The Tree Keeps on Growing

By clicking on the leaf next to my great-grandmother's name, I find two records with information about her: another member's family tree and a link to the 1910 census. Member trees can be really helpful for your research because it means other people are researching the same people you are, and you can actually benefit from work they've already done. You can even merge people and data from other people's trees into your tree. So, you save a lot of "leg work" and "finger work."

For purposes of this demonstration, I'll choose to go with the actual census record. Using this data, I discover that my great-grandmother was 18 years old in 1910 and still living with her mother and father. So, I now know her father's name and her mother's (at least married) name.

Here, I luck out because her father's name is so unusual (Kinchen D. Dossey). The more uncommon a name is, the more certain you can be that you have found the correct person. If your ancestor's name was John Smith, by contrast, you're going to have to do a lot of research to make sure the information you're finding is indeed related to the particular ancestor of interest and not someone else's ancestor.

My great-great-grandmother's name is much more common, so I have to do a little more digging, but Ancestry's records and search functions have already done most of the work for me. Again, I click on the leaf next to her name, and see a link to the Kentucky Death Records 1852-1953. This shows me her birth and death dates (under her married name). But these particular records also include her father's name and her mother's maiden name. Jackpot!

Take Advantage of the Two-Week Trial

At this point, I have a great start to at least one branch of my family tree, thanks to Ancestry's extensive record bank.

You do, of course, have to sign up for's free two-week trial in order to view all the records connected to the green leaves for your ancestors. And, in order to do this, you will have to provide Ancestry with a credit/debit card number. I highly recommend signing up for the 14-day trial. Do this on a weekend, if you work during the week. That way you can devote two whole weekends to filling in as much information as possible before your trial is up.

You can cancel at any time before the two weeks are up, but be prepared for Ancestry to contact you relentlessly if you do cancel. I've done this before, and they wanted to know why I canceled. Why? It just got too darn expensive to keep up the membership.

Show Me the Money!

What does it cost? For access to just Ancestry's U.S. records, it costs $12.95/month for the six month membership (paid in one lump sum) and $22.95/month if you pay on a monthly basis.

If you want access to records from all over the world, you will have to pay quite a bit more : $24.95/month for the six month membership and $34.95/month on a month-to-month basis.

My Advice's genealogy service certainly is useful. But if the cost is too much for you at this time, fill in as much information you can during the two-week trial and then cancel.

What can you do with your family tree after you cancel your Ancestry membership? Keep looking online. If your family tree is anything like mine, you will have lots of other people researching the same people you are. And a lot of these people have put this research online to share with others. That's how I do a lot of my genealogy research for free. Keep in mind, though, that this information may not be as accurate as's records, so take it all with a grain of salt and try to find reputable sources whenever possible.

One good place to go look for more information is your local historical society. The Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort has a wealth of genealogical information in its library, and it even has computers and its own membership, so I can take what I have and continue searching there. Check with your own local historical society to see if this might be an option for you. It's a fun use of an afternoon for a family history hobbyist. is the best place to start your family tree. If you have the money, by all means continue your Ancestry membership. It's a great way to learn more about your family history. And you might just learn something more about yourself in the process!

What's Your Experience?

Have you used for your genealogy research?

See results

Free Ancestry Search Opportunity

From October 1-15, 2011, is offered everyone an opportunity to search in up to 15 of their favorite collections for free. A new collection was open for access each day. They did this as part of a sitewide sweepstakes opportunity to win a chance to be on NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

Will they offer this free searching opportunity again? Who knows? It would be nice if they did. Stay tuned, and I'll let you know what I find out.


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub. My brother started to do our family tree via, a few years ago. Now my future SIL is finding out some DNA information on her dad's side, too via

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      4 years ago

      I was told one branch was from Ireland, and instead traced it to England. Ancestry is full of surprises, and quite addictive. I still plan to get the worldwide access, which is another fee, but the records in England may make it worth the expense. I look at it like this, it is entertainment, and for a year subscription it is a bargain, cheaper than cable tv.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for this neat Hub on your family history experiences! ;-)

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      6 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      I enjoyed your hub.

      I've been doing genealogical research since 1979. does have its attributes. If you want to use for free, you can go to any Family History Center at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near you. Non-members are always welcome. In fact, there are usually more non-members in there during FHC hours than non-members. You don't need an appointment. Do phone first, though, to make sure their location has the as most do, but there might be one or two locations in each city that have not bothered to hook up to it.

      However, you can also use The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' database called Family Search. It is the largest repository in the world of genealogical data. I've explained in one of my hubs why that is so. You can access it at the Family History Centers or you can use it directly from home at Very soon there will also be the members' database available titled Family Tree where you can put your name into the database and watch your pedigree grow before your eyes, one generation at a time. However, you will not see your name and data already on there because there are rules in place against putting living people's information up there. You will be able to be a part of Family Tree when it is launched for the whole world soon.

      Voting your hub up. You did a lot of work and explained everything very well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this important subject of family history research.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I have a love/hate relationship with Ancestry. I love all the information, but I hate their so-called "filters" which are useless. What good does it do to select/deselect for certain search criteria, when all of that is ignored, and things for which you specifically DE-selected are shown to you anyway? It makes the search even more time-consuming than such searches normally are, anyway.

      Like you, I cannot afford the membership, but I do have a "back door." A cousin of mine does have a full, worldwide membership, and is willing to look up anything I need.

      Great introductory article you've done here! Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.

    • ancestralstory profile image


      7 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

      What a great article for beginners to and family history research!

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Hi, oceans. You're welcome, and thanks for reading. I wish you the best in your search!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      I was looking into trying the two week free trial they keep on offering on I want to get everything ready to go though first, so I can plunge in. Its been a long time since I did my online family research, and I do recall that more than anything, what I needed was more money to do so. I wanted to get all the records, buy all the certificates, etc. Thanks for sharing your experience here. I want to get started again.

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Judi. That's why I put that line in there about taking the other members' information with a grain of salt. I've run across that, too, in my own research. For the longest time, I had someone connected to my tree as an ancestor because someone had connected him in their tree as the father of one of my ancestors. It turns out, this guy was actually the adopted father (blood uncle) of my ancestor - although I did find that information out from another member tree (that did actually have outside source information to back it up - thank goodness). Sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find what you're looking for.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      7 years ago from UK

      I am a total Ancestry fan - I love it. I would add a note of caution about using other members trees as source material though - I find that not everyone is scrupulous in their research. I have one person, for instance, who has used my tree as a source for her own, on the basis that we have an ancestor with the same, very common, name and disregarding the fact that they were born in different countries!

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      I lucked out and came across shipping records for the Bremen Shipping Co which listed passengers that I was later able to link to census materials and city directories. It gave me a good feel for where (at least) those emigrants had come from. Mind, I was actually doing a community study rather than a strict genealogy, per say, but the spade work is generally the same. Still would have helped.

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Hi, TS. I'm glad you found it interesting. I've tried searching through Mormon databases before, but haven't had much luck with those myself. Census records and other member trees are usually how my research gets done.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Hi workingmom. I am very glad I stopped by this hub and gave it a gander! Very interesting information. When I was doing graduate work, I was crawling about looking for information. I found The local Mormon Temple was rocking in this area in terms of their collections...I believe the records play a role in their belief...not sure...but they let me use their stuff! This would have been much easier.


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