February 4th, 2010

Family Trees: A Guide to Getting Started

Once you make the decision to document your family history, the next logical step is to document what you find. You are excited and feel tempted to plunge into the research. However, starting with a plan is a precursor to your success. Here is a beginner’s guide to starting your family tree.

Create your Roadmap. Imagine you decide to drive from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida. The first thing you do is to look at a map and plan your trip. You figure out the distance, the time it takes to get there and your route. Without looking at the map, you can wander along, get lost, take detours and may take twice as long to et to Miami. But, you would like to get to your destination as quickly as possible.

In order for you to document your family tree properly, you need a plan of action.

• What is your goal?

• What to include, maternal and paternal relatives?

• Where to look?

• How to document it? Download a family tree template to help you document your research.

Take the time to create a roadmap. You will increase your chances of completing your project successfully.

Step #1 – Document Your Personal History – Start with documenting and preserving your own personal history.
Some items to include:

1. Your birth certificate (some people have never seen a copy of their birth certificate)

2. Baptismal Certificate

3. School Records

4. Marriage Records

5. Your children’s birth certificates and school records (if applicable)

6. Childhood pictures

7. Family Heirlooms

8. Personal Journals

9. Family Bible

Step #2 – Collect Your Family Records – Now that your personal history is in order, gathering information from your relatives is so much easier. Ask for additional items such as, old photos, family heirlooms, newspaper clippings, high school yearbooks, postcards and letters. You might even have to do some digging in their attic or basement to find what you want. Always make a copy of their originals to avoid feeling guilty if you anything gets lost. These are irreplaceable.

Step#3 – Talk to Your Relatives – When you have collected everything you need from your family, put it all together. Bring your family history to life by adding their stories. Start with your parents. Break the ice by asking about the first time they met and when they fell in love. You will be surprised how much you will learn after this. You can gather even more information by preparing a list of interview questions.

Step #3 – Write it All Down – It is very important to take detailed notes. Using a voice recorder will make your task easier. If you want to submit your family history to genealogy research, you have to follow their methodology for taking notes.

Step # 4 – Start with a Single Last Name – It is always best to focus on one last name as a place to start your search. This way you will not become overwhelmed. Once you have gathered enough information, move on to the next.

Step #5 – Using the Internet – The resources for researching your family tree online is tremendous. It can also be confusing on where to begin. You can start with visiting some free genealogy websites or search the archives subscription genealogy websites. Or go to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. See what others are talking about and what they have found. A Google search for genealogy resources will also help.

Step #6 – Make Some Visits – Although researching online is easy and convenient, it is not enough. Visit the places where your family lived, the churches, the cemeteries and courthouses. You will find nuggets of information not recorded online

Step# 7 – Organize your Information – If you are satisfied you have done an exhausted research, then it’s time to organize it all. Review your notes and make additional ones if needed, make copies of your documents and remember to put a date on everything. You can also scan everything and store it electronically as well.

Step # 8 – Create your Family Genealogy Document – This is your final step. You have arrived at your destination. Put the final pieces of the puzzle together by documenting everything in a family tree.

Wait, your’e not done yet. You get to do it over again. The next name on your list is waiting for you!