How to Trace Your Family Tree
Our family history shapes us in ways we can’t always recognize, but much of who each person alive is today is due to the decisions made by those who came before (and their genes, of course). That knowledge is what drives such an avid interest in genealogy.
Many people find that by discovering new information about the lives of their long-dead family members they feel closer to history and can learn a little more about themselves. While search engines and the digitization of many past records mean that a search into your family ancestry is easier today than it’s ever been before, that doesn’t mean you can count on it being a breeze.
Be prepared to put in some effort and probably pay some money. If you’re ready to hunker in and do the work though, you may just dig up something fascinating.
Start With What You Know
To find information from the past, you need to start with what you can find in the present. Write down the names of all the family members you know now. Now start making phone calls.
To find as much about your family ancestry in the records, you need as much information to start with as possible, so all those living relatives with memories that go further back than yours are your most valuable resources.
Some of the main things you want to learn from them are:
- The names of any family members you don’t have down yet.
- The birth dates of family members on your list.
- The death dates on those who have passed.
- The birth names of women who changed their names after marriage.
- The places your family members were born, lived, and died.
Write down everything you learn and keep talking to family members until you’ve gotten all the information you can get.
Dig Into Ancestry Sites and Resources
Now you’ve got the start you need to move to perusing the resources out there. You’ll quickly notice that there are lots of genealogy websites. Many are free up to a point, but most require you to pay to dig deeper and/or access the documents you find referenced.
Some of the main resources you’re looking for are census records, obituaries, birth records, and death records. This information will both help you verify the information you already have and tell you where to look next.
Create a System for Collecting and Organizing Your Info
Every piece of information you find takes work and is valuable to finding more. That means you definitely don’t want to lose track of anything you find.
Figure out the system that works best for you for documenting the details you learn, recording how you learned them, and staying on top of how everyone’s connected. If you try to skip this step, everything else will be pointless. You have to get all your discoveries into a format you can refer back to in order to build off of each new one to get to the next.
Share What You Find
This may be your search, but you’re not an island. Other people in your family will likely be interested in what you learn – both those alive now and those to come. Share what you’ve learned with your family members and make sure your documentation is legible and useful for future generations.
The work you do now may be the very thing that inspires your great-great grandchildren to pursue a similar search and learn all about you. There’s no reason not to make it easy for them.
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