Every person I know who’s looked up their family genealogy said it was one of the most rewarding things they’ve ever done. Sure, you can pay for an online service to put together your family tree, but those can cost you a lot money. Plus it’s not nearly as much fun as researching your own family history. You’ll talk to relatives you may have never met. You’ll learn secrets or debunk family myths. Who knows what you’ll uncover!
Need some help? No problem! We’ve got some suggestions to help you put your family genealogy together.
Make sure you have plenty of paper to write down notes. Most libraries will let you make copies of documents, but if the records are as old as the hills, you might have to simply write down the information you need.
Also, consider buying a voice recorder for conversations you have with people on your journey. You never know what small piece of information someone mentions in passing might give you a huge breakthrough. Having the ability to go back and listen to conversations word for word is valuable. Then, as a bonus, you’ll have a recording of your family member for others to listen to later and add to your collection.
Keep yourself organized with some file folders. I’d use an individual file folder for each person you plan to research. This helps keep the information, like records and photos, for each person in one place. It also allows you to pass along the information you gathered to the next keeper of the family genealogy.
Start with living relatives
Start with yourself and your immediate family. Write down all the information you can. Save news clippings or articles posted online featuring your family. It’s the easiest way to practice gathering and organizing information.
Living family members provide a great jumping off point for your family tree. Ask them to pull out the old photos stashed in the attic and go over them with you. Despite my grandmother on my mom’s side having dementia late in life, she could remember every single person, place and event in every photo we looked at.
My grandma shared stories about relatives I’d never heard of before. I learned a ton of family history, and I had a great time going over the photos with her just before she passed. Seeing the smile it brought to her face while reminiscing will be something I treasure forever.
Be sure to take notes or record your conversations with living relatives; you’ll use this data as the foundation for your research.
Visit your local library or historical society
If you have the names and dates of when a family member died, you can find more information through local archives and libraries. Many keep death records and obituaries of residents who passed away on file. They may also have copies of birth certificates and census records.
Obituaries can lead you to more descendants or family members you might not even have known were related to you. Obituaries can also tell you if your relative was a town native, moved from another place, and maybe some notable life accomplishments.
If your local library or historical society collects census records, you hit a gold mine! Census records, state or federal, provide a ton of information to help piece together your distant relative’s story: name, age, birthday, birth place, occupation, location, month, place of marriage, etc.
You may also find census data on the National Archives site.
Organize your information after each research session
Once you get all your information together, put it in a scrapbook. Make photocopies and share your findings with other family members. In fact, giving everyone in your family a copy of your genealogical research would make a great holiday gift idea.
Instead of paying a website a ton money to do your family tree, do the grunt work yourself. Tracking down and finding out information about your family heritage is a rewarding process and often can turn into an amazing treasure hunt.
Who knows what you’ll learn about your past relatives!
Have you researched your family history? Share your tips and experiences with other Zing readers!