December 1st, 2009

Family Tree Making 101

Genealogy is about researching and preserving your ancestry. It’s one thing to find your ancestors but quite another to organize them all in a family tree chart that makes sense and that keeps you from tearing your hair out trying to remember who was great aunt Bertha.

A family tree chart is a great way to organize your family tree and keep small important information available at a glance. Most family tree charts have room for names, dates of birth, death, marriages and perhaps a fact or two such as a place or occupation. These are all important bits of information that you might want to share. But it saves you the trouble of having to haul your entire filing cabinet full of photographs, photocopies, and records with you to every family dinner, birthday, or luncheon.

Start by downloading a free printable family tree chart. There are several family tree charts to choose from. The Free Kids Family Tree Fan Chart is a good one that kids can fill in with their immediate family. The Five Generation Picture Pedigree Chart is a great one either drawing or pasting pictures onto. And the other free family tree charts range in generations from four generations all the way to eight generations.

Once you’ve chosen a family tree chart, start filling it in with all the information you know about your family start with you and work your way back to your parents, grandparents, great grand parents and so on. Don’t be discouraged if you can only get as far back as a generation or two, just fill in what you do know. You can always find out the details from an older relative or by doing some searches online.

Once you’ve filled in as much as you can, it’s time to gather some materials and pay Grandma a visit. A coffee cake is always nice to bring but you’re going to need a few more things. Pencils and paper, old photos if you have them, even heirlooms or things that have been in your family for generations, Grandma will know something about them and the person who used it or bought it or she’ll know how that dent was made.

I also like to bring along some technology like tape recorders or my all time favorite is a video camera that I can turn on and let record. I do this so I don’t have to be furiously writing facts and stories while I’m listening. Besides the facts of your ancestors lives aren’t nearly as fun and interesting as the stories that go along with those facts.

When visiting with an older relative, be mindful of the fact that they may not remember things right away, they might need to look at some old photos or call Uncle George. So be patient and if they don’t remember during your visit, it doesn’t mean that they may never remember, call them back in a couple weeks, just for a hi how are you and you will be surprised at the stories you’ll get then! Make sure you tape that conversation!

But I’ve found the best way to get older people talking is to get them together. So dust off your good dishes and invite your older relatives over for a visit. It may start some heated debates over when things took place or what exactly happened, but in the end you’ll get more information and have a few laughs along the way.

Sometimes, if you’re like me, you wait a little too long to get interested in your genealogy and you don’t have many older relatives left to invite over, you are left doing your research in dusty records repositories or online. I like working online because you don’t have to go anywhere and if you think of something at three in the morning, you can get online and not have to wait until morning. Some of my favorite places online to go are listed in a previous post called Review of the Top 40+ FREE Online Genealogy Websites Where You Can Start Your Ancestry Search. And my Review of the Top 6 Paid Subscription Online Genealogy Websites are my favorite websites to go to when I need to pay for records.

It’s easy to start and once you do, family tree making is a fun hobby and lets you learn a little about yourself. So download that family tree chart now, it’s free!