June 25th, 2012

10 Steps to Fashioning Your Family History

We’ve had quite a few new genealogists joining us here at ObituariesHelp.org, and I wanted to welcome them with a brief recap on how to formulate a family tree. We as experienced genealogists remember (I hope!) how daunting a task tracing your family history seemed at first. Where do I start? Who do I look for first? Where do I look? These are just a few of the questions that revolve around your brain when first considering a genealogical project. If you are new to genealogical research, or considering a family history project, following these ten steps, and using the many free resources we provide for researchers, will help you to master the basics you need to build your family legacy. Ready? Okay, let’s get started.

1. Gather Resources From Around Your House
You may not know it, but you could already be sitting on top of a genealogical gold mine! Many researchers have found documents, family heirlooms, and other valuable genealogical information from scouring their basements, attics, old boxes stored in garages form their own homes and those of their relatives. Many older relatives may have kept a family bible; I know my grandmother did, and she had birth dates, death dates, marriage and baptism dates (and sometimes accompanying certificates) stored in hers. You could also find diaries, journals, letters, photo books, all of which can contain important genealogical material.

2. Interview Your Relatives
The collective wisdom of your relatives can help to build a firm, fast family tree. But don’t just barrage them with a bunch of questions designed to accumulate data. Facts are important, and do write them down, but rather talk to your relatives, asking them about their own lives and those of the ancestors they know about. A good idea is to record your conversations, that way you can transcribe them later, separating the facts from the family stories. Before you begin your interviews, read some of our tips on Interviewing Family Members to help you prepare. Whatever you do, make sure that any “facts” you record can be backed up by official documentation. This brings us to our next step – writing the information down.

3. Recording the Information
After gathering all of that information, you’ll need to record it in an organized, efficient manner. You can begin with one of our Free Family Tree Templates. We have them beginning at three generations right up to ten or more generations, but we recommend beginning with one of between three and five generations. A three generation chart will include information on you, your parents, and grandparents, while a five generation chart will take you right back to your great-great grandparents. You can download them for FREE, and all the instructions you need can be found in the instructional article located conveniently on the download page.

4. Pick a Target
You will undoubtedly have spaces in your family tree chart the further you go back in time, and once you have recorded all the ancestors you can, it is time to pick one of those empty spaces in your family tree and fill it! This is where your research begins, but to be successful research has to be focused. Choose one ancestor and don’t move on to the next one until you have found the one you’ve selected. There are times when you may reach a dead end, but our Free Insider’s Guide – The Basics of Tracing Family Genealogy can help you to overcome them.

5. Begin Your Search Online
An online search can help you to find out if there are records of your ancestor somewhere; you may even be able to view some of them from the comfort of your own home on your PC. You can search huge databases on many websites, and many are completely FREE! We have recently updated our database, and now have links to 82 Absolutely Free Genealogy Resources and Records you can begin with.

6. Visit Your Local Library
You don’t want to limit your research to online sources; in fact you can’t complete your family history without visiting brick and mortar institutions. One such valuable genealogical repository is your local or state library. Many local libraries are tied into the database of the state or national libraries, and many have subscriptions to the large commercial genealogy websites which you can use if you’re a member. The US Government maintains a large online database of Government and Public Libraries in the United States while Collections Canada has a similar listing for Canadian libraries. Libraries for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales can be found at the UK Public Libraries website.

7. Visit Your Local Family History Center
The LDS Church (Latter-day Saints) has established more than 4,000 Family History Centers around the world, containing the largest genealogical database in existence. Their Online Directory can help you to find the Center nearest you.

8. Copy and Study Genealogical Documents
When you find a record of your ancestor at a library, family history center or online, you’ll want to make or download a copy of it so that you can examine it closely for clues to other ancestors, confirm the existing facts you have, and to preserve it for future use. Locate and make copies of as many birth, death, marriage, and baptism certificates as you can, and then you’ll need to update your Family Tree.

9. Update Your Family Tree
The new information you find will help you to full in those spaces in the family tree chart you began in Step 3. You may need to move on to a bigger chart, but whatever you do, don’t throw away the one you started, Transfer the information from that chart onto your new one, and file it in a folder along with any photos or copies of documents you may have for the ancestors included in it. You may need to refer to that chart again, or make copies of it to give to other relatives who might be interested in your family history.

10. Broaden Your Horizons
As you’re compiling information on your ancestors, you will begin to develop a personal interest in them, or curiosity about them. You might like to visit the land they immigrated from, or the village where they used to live. You will begin to learn of other sources like court records and church records, and may need to visit the repositories at which they are held. This is the stage when you’ll begin to realize just how much fun genealogy can be. As you develop your family tree, you’ll realize that research is not just about gathering facts, but about getting to know your ancestors as people. There’s no better excuse to go for a pint of Guinness in the pub in Ireland your ancestor used to love! You never know, you might meet someone who knew them!