Starting your family tree is something that requires a lot of effort and patience but the overall process can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. If you’re a newcomer and just beginning your adventure, get ready to roll up your sleeves but don’t get discouraged when you hit the occasional roadblock!
We’ve hand-selected three very knowledgeable genealogists to provide some insight about starting a family tree and presented them with the following question:
What is the best piece advice you can give to someone that wants to start building their family tree?
Here’s what they have to say…
Dick Eastman (@dickeastman):
Write it down!
Researching your family tree is a very personal and rewarding experience. You can really find out who you are and where you came from.
One problem with collecting all the facts about your ancestry is that you can quickly become overwhelmed with the details. Names, dates, and places can become confusing as you find more and more ancestors. Luckily, the “problem” is easily solved.
Starting with your very first efforts, always record what you found. Record not only the names and the facts (dates and locations), always record where you found that information. In some cases, you found the information in a book. Other sources of information might be verbal from an older relative.
In any case, always write it down.
Your memory isn’t perfect! Someday you will ask, “Where did I obtain that information?” Recording it now solves future problems.
You can obtain a fancy computer program to capture your information or you can write it down on a plain piece of paper. The method is not important but make sure you record every scrap of information and the source where you found it.
Randy Seaver (@rjseaver):
Building your family tree will be a lifetime effort. There is no such thing as a worldwide family tree with your family in it – you will have to search high and low for information about your ancestors and to find their family stories.
The search should be in all possible resources – in books, in court records, in state vital records, in passenger lists, in census records, in military records, in DNA testing, and in many more resources. You may find information about your ancestors that is published by someone else in print or on the Internet. You should use this information only as a finding aid – to help you find the original sources with primary information that prove birth, marriage, death and event facts and relationships. You should attempt to verify or disprove every fact or story you find about your ancestor, and cite your source material.
Lastly, only a small percentage (probably less than 5% in 2009) of all genealogy information is on the Internet. Enjoy the search for your ancestors, and honor them with your research.
Debra Fleming (@ancestrydetect):
The best advice I could give to a beginning genealogist would be to start writing your family history now. Don’t collect documents and facts but start the narrative. The reason for this is that it puts your focus on filling in the blanks of who they were and the time in which they lived, putting your ancestor into historical context and causing you to research in between the lines. I inherited a narrative format from my father that he wrote for a college course when I was three years old. The unusual thing about this narrative is the format. It forces you to ask questions like: What were their political leanings and why? What Religion were they? Did they attend church regularly? Did their Religion influence their choices and decisions? What does it mean that he was a member of the Knights of Columbus? What kind of life was factory work in a Thread Mill? Was it unusual to be an immigrant home owner in Willimantic, CT? What was Willimantic like in 1919?
These are the actions of our ancestors lives. We owe it to them to provide the verbs and adjectives that paint color on the lives of our ancestors. They were not just a collection of facts or nouns. They lived and we need to paint them that way with our narratives. Starting out writing is the best way to keep our focus on what matters, the actions of their lives. In other words, how they lived.
Thanks to Dick, Randy and Debra for their great advice!!