Starting a family tree can be a rewarding project, but where do you begin?
A lot of people think you can just dive in, put a lot of names on a tree and like magic you have a complete family tree.
Unfortunately, genealogy is not that simple. There are countless hours involved, weeding through endless and somewhat boring papers. All while hoping to find any small bit of information that may help further your family tree.
On the other hand, finding that information can be very exciting. A small piece of information can open the door for bigger and better information. Before long, you have enough facts on an ancestor to be able to say without a doubt that they belong in your family tree.
How to Start a Family Tree Project
You cannot have a family tree chart of your family unless you take the time to start one and you are the best place to start.
What information about yourself will be useful? Your birthday, where you were born, places you have lived are all facts that future generations will want to know. Even medical history can be helpful to future generations.
I often find myself wishing that my ancestors had left more of a paper trail. Since they did not, I have taken on the task of writing short stories here and there about me and my family members, major events in my life, I even wrote down the details of losing my mother to cancer. If you think your descendants may want to know, write it down. You really will be leaving them a treasure.
Once you have enough information about yourself, move on to your parents. When are their birthdays? Where did they get married? Where have they lived? What major life events have they lived through?
You now have enough information to start a family tree.
But where do you keep this information?
How to Create a Family Tree for Free
There are many ways to start a family tree online. I have several trees spread over several sites. It all comes down to what works best for you.
A great place to start is FamilySearch.org. Family Search is a non profit genealogy search site run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is a lot of free information available and you can build a family tree right on their site. They also have a Learning Center area with videos to help you better understand genealogy.
Ancestry.com offers free and paid accounts. You can start a family tree on Ancestry for free, however a lot of the searchable documents require a paid membership to view the information. If you can afford the expense, it is a nice way to connect to other family members who may be searching the same ancestors as you.
These are the top 2 sites that I use. There are many, many more websites for building a family tree. A simple google search will turn up endless suggestions, however to keep things simple for now, we will go with these 2.
What is the Next Step When Building My Family Tree?
The next step would be inputting the information you have collected into your new online family tree.
Starting with yourself, add your vital statistics such as your full name, birth date, and birth place. From there start spreading out and adding your parents. Just remember, when adding people other than yourself, you need to prove their information.
Don’t add information just for the sake of adding. You want to make sure that this new information is true to the best of your knowledge. Copies of birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses are great ways to prove your facts. You can attach documents and photos of your ancestor in your online family tree. Having these documents attached in your family tree makes them easily accessible if you need them later.
Once you have you and your parents added, start adding your siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Before you know it, your tree will have many branches.
How Do I Find My Ancestors Online?
Searching for your ancestors can either be easy, or a big challenge. If you were lucky, your Mom told you tales of your “Great Aunt Tessie”, take those stories to find leads. If you know that Great Aunt Tessie lived in Charleston, South Carolina, proving it can open up a whole new world of documents and leads.
Sometimes, simply searching the ancestors name in Google will give you a place to search. Online Databases are a wealth of information. Census records, military records, and local directories can give you anything from a birthday to a place your ancestors may have lived. Each piece of information gets you one step closer to your goal of being able to add that ancestor or relative to your tree.
Family Tree Tips and Guidelines We Should Follow
There are some tips and guidelines we should all follow when creating our family trees.
#1 Don’t take information from someone else’s family tree as fact.
You do not know what standards another person followed when building their tree. They may add information without proof which can cause a big headache down the road.
You can however use their tree as a lead. If you can prove the information as true, you can add that ancestor to your tree. If it is not true, you can mark them off your list of possibilities.
#2 Prove it. Then Prove it again.
Being able to prove a fact as true is a wonderful feeling. Being able to prove it again gives you certainty. You want to be as sure as you can be before you add information into your tree. One wrong bit of information can cause everything else in your tree to become false. If you are searching for a relative based on wrong information, chances are that person is not your relative and you will be adding in someone else’s family to your tree.
#3 Talk to your family while you have them
This is one of the most important tips I wish I had followed. Ask your family for any help that they can give you.
Do you have older siblings? Maybe they remember visiting Great Aunt Tess at her home for her 90th birthday celebration and what year it was.
Ask your parents about their parents and siblings. Record or write down any stories they tell you. Those stories might lead you to the facts you are missing.
Your parents and grandparents won’t be around forever, so its best to do this while you can!
#4 Don’t give up.
Just because you cannot find a specific ancestor, don’t give up. Work on other branches of your tree where you can make progress. Sometimes the ancestor you are looking for will pop up where you least expect and in their own good time.
Family Genealogy- A Job That is Never Done
Before you start thinking you will end up with a complete family tree after reading this, I feel I should warn you. Family trees are never done.
There are new members of your family being born every day, people pass away every day. There will always be more information that has to be added, and more information that needs to be found.
Consider this a journey. You are on a journey to learn about your family, what they were like, how they lived, and where they lived. You are on a journey to learn their stories.
Enjoy the journey and happy searching.
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