Want to learn how to start a family tree? It’s easier than you think. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll be on your way before you know it. Best of all — it’s free!
1 – Start with yourself
Write down the names of your siblings, parents, grand parents, and, if you can, great grand parents. If you have kids, grand kids, nieces, and nephews, then write down their names, too. Jot down birthdays, locations, immigration dates, military service, and notable family events. Gather old photos, yearbooks, birth certificates, bibles, newspaper clippings, and other information hidden away in your dresser. Check the shoe boxes in your mom’s spare bedroom closet. You’ll be surprised what you can collect in a short time.
2 – Talk to family and friends
Remember those family stories you heard as a kid? Write them down, and fill in the blanks by talking to relatives and old family friends. Ask them what they remember about their parents and grand parents. Ask if any of your relatives came to America from another country. Find out what you can about family heirlooms and artifacts and land ownership. Listen to war stories. Revisit old letters and newspaper clippings. Look through family photo albums. Bits of memories could be clues that later help unearth ancestral treasures.
3 – Write it all down
Write down everything you’ve collected so far. Use pedigree charts, family group sheets, timelines, and interview forms. Put together a research binder. It should include the forms related to the ancestors you’re currently researching. Simplify your research process using a compiled genealogy notebook. Jot down the location and condition of family heirlooms. Always cite your sources.
4 – Organize your information
The information that you find will be in both electronic and print formats. Organize your worksheets and records in file folders and in folders on your computer. Setup both sets of folders by the name of each person. Use an ancestral reference numbering system to help with organization. It’s easy to keep up with 2 or 3 generations, but the count doubles with each generation. For example, 2 generations = 6 ancestors (your parents and grand parents); 6 generations = 126 ancestors; 12 generations = 8190 ancestors. You’ll also notice that families tend to share names. Don’t be surprised to find five ancestors all with the same first and last name. Organization is a key discipline in tracing your roots.
5 – Plan your next steps
Once you’ve collected and organized your research, it’s time to move on to the next steps. You need to validate your findings. Start by collecting birth and death certificates, bible and church records, military service records, marriage licences, court records, and census data. Much of this information is available on the web for free and for a fee. You’ll have to collect some records the old fashion way — either by ordering through the mail or by making a trip to the county court-house. Most libraries have a section devoted to genealogy. Your local LDS Family History Center contains a wealth of relevant information. Review pedigree charts and family group sheets and identify missing information. Keep a to do list of research updated with books to read, records to order, and people to interview. Stay focused by researching 1 or 2 generations at a time.
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