Your family history is rich and unique, and learning more about it can be an emotional and rewarding journey of personal discovery. A detailed family tree is something you can pass down for generations, and your living family members will most likely be very grateful and excited that you’re taking on the challenge. Everyone in your family tree is a distinct individual, and there may be a lot or very little information to find about them. If you want to research your family tree, there are many resources that can help you. Here are a few suggestions on ways to get started.
Start by Sketching What You Know
Before you begin researching, sit down and write everything you already know about your ancestors. Sketch out and fill in the branches of your family tree as best you can. A rough sketch will help you determine how much you already know, as well as identify the gaps in your knowledge that you’ll be seeking to fill.
Talk to Living Relatives
Any living relatives you have are likely to be excellent sources of information on the people who came before them. If you’re lucky enough to be able to communicate with your relatives, sit down with them one-by-one, and ask each of them to tell you about their immediate family. Get as many details as possible, such as the names of towns their family members lived in, the dates of significant events, and the accurate spelling of everyone’s names. The more details you get, the more help you’ll have in your search. Your living relatives can give you invaluable information and leads to follow in your research.
Assemble Documents and Photographs
If your relatives have photographs of the family or documents, such as birth or death certificates and marriage licenses, ask to photocopy them for your records. The documents will help with filling in your gaps and researching for more information. The photographs will give you a nice way to visualize your ancestors and the past you’re uncovering, and they’ll make excellent touches to add to your completed family tree.
Perform Online Searches
The Internet is an amazing source of information on just about everything, including the history of your family. Online you can access literally millions of records and documents, especially through the U.S. Census. Census records become viewable by the public 72 years after they’re completed. You can currently access Census records from 1940 and earlier. You can also find birth and death certificates, military records, and much more. There are many excellent websites and databases you can search to find this information, and many of them are free.
Explore Newspaper Clippings
Visit the offices of the local newspapers in as many towns that your ancestors lived in as possible. Most newspapers keep archives of their past issues, and you can search the archives to find stories and photographs that might pertain to members of your family. Some newspapers have made their archives searchable online, but the majority of newspapers will require you to manually search their archives. Make it a little easier on yourself by narrowing your search to specific date ranges in the time periods you’re most interested in.
Exploring your family history will certainly be a unique experience for you. There is no guarantee that you’ll find everything you’re looking for, but the information you do collect will go a long way in preserving your family history for generations to come. The family tree you create will be a source of personal pride for you and your entire family.