You know that you have a rich and interesting family history, full of stories and events and fascinating ancestors. And one of the ways to capture that family history and really understand where you came from and how you got where you are today is to create a family tree. However, family history research can be a daunting task. Where do you start? How do you start? What is it you really need to know? Here are the steps you need to take in order to start researching your family history and build your family tree.
- See what you have. In your house you’ve already got a family history archive. All the papers and letters you’ve saved, all the photos with notes on the back, any legal documents or family heirlooms or newspaper clippings. These are all great sources of important information about your family history. You’ll find that they spark memories of things you already know about your family history, plus give you important hints on where to start searching for more family history information. And don’t forget to check with all your living relatives, too. It’s a sure bet they have their own papers and photos they’d be willing to share with you!
- Start taking notes. As soon as you’ve got that wealth of family history at your fingertips, it’s time to start organizing that information. Put all the photos and documents and anything else you’ve found in date order as best you can. And then with a pen in your hand or a laptop, start sorting through that family history. Take notes on each document you have. Write down names you find, the dates surrounding them, and any other interesting tidbits you glean from these family history documents.
As you go, you’ll find that you’re uncovering more questions than answers—but this is a good thing! Finding holes or gaps in your gives you a great starting point to move forward from. Write down all those questions you have about birthdates, hometowns, jobs and more. Also write down questions that you’re curious about! Such as what it was like to live in that time or place, what kinds of hobbies your ancestors had, and more. This is the heart of your project.
- Start interviewing. The best source of family history information you’ve got are your relatives. They can gives you dates and places as well as stories and important personal details you’re not going to find anywhere else.
- Get organized. Now that you’ve got all that family history research at your fingertips, you can finally start your family tree! It begins with a little more organization. Take all the notes you have from your own research and your interviews with relatives and start organizing it by person and each family group. Take all the facts you have about each family member and each part of the family they’re a part of and put them together. As you read through, note down any leads you can follow on the Internet, like looking up churches your family attended and possible famous relatives. Finally, you’ll need to compile a master list of all the relatives you know about. These are the very first branches of your tree.
- Grow your tree. The fastest and easiest way to take your family history research and turn it into an easy to read family tree is an online family tree service. The information should be fast and easy to enter and having an electronic tree keeps you organized. You can also go back and edit or add branches wherever and whenever you need to, and then share with other family members.
A great feature to look for in a website is collaboration. When you join a shared family tree, you have access to all the research, records and information that thousands of other genealogists have uncovered. With just a few clicks you can grow from a few branches to thousands of connections you didn’t know existed.
From there you can start exploring even further. There are plenty of tools and resources to help deepen your research such as birth and death databases, news websites and more.