Until recently, climbing up the family tree was only for professional genealogists and those peculiar relatives who spend holidays looking through the trunks in your attic. If you wanted to learn about your family’s history, you had to single-handedly discover records and dust off forgotten tombstones, and you probably attended those massive family reunions that always happen on the other side of the state, or the country, or wherever is most inconvenient. It was more than a simple pastime. It was an all-consuming lifestyle.
But in the last few decades, technology has started catching up with the professionals and the eccentrics, making it the perfect time for novice genealogists to get online and start learning about their family’s history. Genealogy sites have been created to simplify the process, connecting families from all over the world.
Do a Little Digging
Before you begin, take a little time to talk with your family. Discovering your genealogy can be a daunting task, so use your nearby resources to build a foundation. This doesn’t have to be a big time commitment; keep conversations within the immediate family. Maybe your mother knows an important family story or has a picture that will help you get the genealogical wheels rolling. Maybe your family changed its surname. Maybe your grandfather was adopted. Maybe you were adopted. These easy discoveries will help you get on right path, thereby making your genealogical experience an enjoyable one.
Which Site Is Right for You?
While there are literally thousands of genealogy sites floating around the web, a select few lead the pack. There are some specialized sites, such as AfriGeneas, which provide resources for those researching African-American roots. Most often, general genealogical Internet options, like Archives.com, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, provide the widest range of records and resources.
To Pay or Not to Pay
Certain sites require their patrons to pay subscription fees to access all their genealogical wares, which may cause the casual genealogist, like yourself, to raise an eyebrow. After all, this is your history, so you should be entitled to it. This is a reasonable reaction, so start your journey by checking out FamilySearch.org. Brought to you by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this heritage site is perfect for you if you want to dig into your past without digging into your wallet. By simply adding your name and background information, FamilySearch will allow you to start making connections to public records and the public genealogies of other users. While FamilySearch has many of the same bells and whistles as paid providers, their service isn’t quite as extensive. However, you’re still able to set up a basic family tree, save records and then share them with the online community. Although your results will probably vary depending on the documents available, FamilySearch is a great first step for those of you who want to dip your toe in the genealogy pool.
Perks if You Pay
Two of the other leading sites, Ancestry.com and Archives.com, offer some of the best genealogical resources in the world, but they come at a price. These for-profit providers have massive name databases, family records and an impressive worldwide focus. Archives.com, which was recently purchased by Ancestry.com, has over 2 billion records that will help you link together your family history, as well as a Facebook integration tool that is nice for sharing information. Like FamilySearch, this site will help you create and “grow” your family tree. It is also known for being easy to navigate and for having excellent customer service.
The most renowned of the genealogical cites, though, is Ancestry.com, which has enough trappings to keep its customers paying every month. While the amount of information can be intimidating for some, the overall process of starting a family tree on Ancestry.com can be an exciting undertaking.
Ancestry.com will initially prompt you to insert your name and information, as well as the names of your parents and grandparents. This is the beginning of your personal family tree. At that point, if the info you provided matches any of their records, Ancestry will provide hints. Joe Habib, a subscriber to Ancestry.com, considers these hints to be the best part of the experience. “With their help,” Habib says, “I was able to discover that my great-great grandmother had owned and operated a bar, which was an interesting career for a woman in those days.” These leaf-shaped hints will guide you further up the family tree, connecting you to birth records and wedding licenses, as well as the information provided by other users.
If you’re skeptical about paying the monthly subscription fee for sites like Ancestry.com and Archives.com, you can still give these sites a spin with a free trial run. At the very least, you can discover and better understand the hype. And, if the price of the subscription is an issue, here’s a helpful hint: At the end of your free trial, call the company to cancel your subscription, even if you plan on keeping it. In an effort to keep your business, these sites have been known to lower the subscription price – but this only works if you call.
So jump online and discover your own story. After all, digging through the past is America’s newest pastime. It’s easy, interesting and a fun way learn about the men and women who brought you into this world.
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