Have you ever wondered where your roots began? Where did you come from and who were these people that were here before you? What were they like and what kind of lives did they live? If so, maybe you should consider researching your family tree. Whether you are completely new to the hobby or have been doing it for years, I have some tips to help you on your journey into history.
There are many reasons you may be interested in your history. Perhaps you've always heard tales about being related to someone famous or notable from history and you want to connect the dots. If you have children, maybe you want to be able to tell them more about their ancestors. It could be that you are just curious. It seems that for all the reasons people want to learn more about their history, there are reasons they don't follow through. Such as, they don't have the time or they started it and got stuck. I'll share some things I've learned on my journey in doing this that may help you avoid some of the pitfalls and point you in the right direction. When you find yourself in the middle of a rainy day and have time on your hands, dig in. You never know what you'll find. *These links and tips I am sharing are from my own journey and tools I use for myself. I am not being compensated in any way, shape, or form by anyone for sharing this information.
Where do I even begin?
There is only one place to start and that is with you. You'll need some basic information, to begin with. Start with you, your parents, and grandparents. A notebook, pen/pencil are your friends. Jot down whatever you can think of. Old family Bibles are great if you have one or if your parents/grandparents do. Bibles have family trees and log pages in the front. It's an excellent resource to discover the names and birth/death dates of your family. Find out who in your family has one and pay them a visit. Talk to them, discussing family history is a great conversation starter. Going over old tales from history is a favorite past-time of elder people. I know because my Grandmother could happily talk to me for hours about her life growing up and share photos with me. Kill two birds with one stone, make your Grandfolks happy and learn something for yourself.
If you know the location of family gravesites, that is also a place you might visit. Take a notepad with you, you can find family members' headstones with their dates of birth and death. Also, families are likely buried together in the same area. My aunt showed me a trick, she took blank sheets of paper and a pencil/crayon and she laid the paper over the headstone and made a 'rubbing' with her crayon. That's a great idea for old headstones that are difficult to read. You can also take photos with your camera or cellphone.
Incidentally, if your family has old photos, ask if you can scan them or take photos of the pictures with your cellphone. Just make sure you note who the photos are of, you can email them to yourself or upload them to Google Drive or to a Cloud service. If you don't have a family in your orbit and have access to your birth certificate, it should have your parent's names and dates of birth on there. In some cases where you have very limited information, you may have more success by hiring a professional to assist you.
The more you know, the more you'll grow. Once you have your basic foundation of your maternal (Mother) and paternal (Father) lines and their maternal and paternal lines, you will need a way to keep track of it all. A good family tree software program is tremendously useful because the more you discover and add to your tree, it can quickly get confusing if you don't have a good database program to keep track of it all for you. I tried SEVERAL before finding one that I truly like and use. The one I use is Legacy Family Tree, find it here https://legacyfamilytree.com/ They have a Standard version that is free if you want to try it. The Deluxe edition is only $34.95. You really can't beat it; I highly recommend it. It's easy to use, it keeps track of all the branches of your tree, you can add notes, pictures, videos, and more. Another reason I love it so much is that I can use it offline and it doesn't require the disk to run once it's installed. Being a private person, it is important for me to protect my personal information from the internet.
Researching Tips - Without following a few basic rules, your tree will take on an imposter like a nasty vine wrapping around your rose bush.
Be patient. Don't add anyone to your tree (database) that you aren't certain about. You can make a note of it on notepaper, but I wouldn't add them without verification, or positive certainty. If you get stuck, it can be frustrating but don't ever add people into your family just for the sake of making progress when it can very likely be an error. At times you are stuck, work on one of your other lines. Sometimes you may need to step away from the hobby and get into something else before diving back in.
For females, ALWAYS use their maiden names. Married women often take the names of their husbands but for the sake of historical record-keeping and tracing family history, you should always use their maiden name, ALWAYS. In my family, on both sides, there are cases of siblings marrying siblings of another family, and with the same names. For example, Jane Smith married John Doe and Jane Doe married Tom Smith. Jane Doe became Smith and Jane Smith became Doe. So, it is important to go by maiden names for the females to be able to keep track of the family lineage.
When you go to family tree or genealogy websites; understand that these lineages are created by regular people like yourself who are researching their family trees and have uploaded or plugged in this information. You shouldn't take for granted that all of the information is accurate. It could be that all, none, or some of the information is the truth. I happen to be stuck on one of my lines right now because someone has plugged in the information online and confused the tree with two family members of the same name and location but are actually cousins of different generations. It is going to be a headache to sort this out but I am up for the challenge, I think.
Pay attention to the dates of birth and death. It likely is not the person you are looking for if it appears they have a child before they are the age of five or if they passed away years before. Something is wrong there. In the same respect, a woman can't give birth at the age of 90. Many times, names are the same (even locations) but dates are your friend and can unravel the mystery.
Use full names whenever possible. Sometimes a middle name or initial can be the key. Also, try to avoid nicknames unless that's all you have. For instance; Bob is likely Robert, Joe is likely Joseph, Will is likely William, Becky is likely Rebecca, Lizzy or Beth is likely Elizabeth, and so on.
If you are unsure of an exact date; use Bef (before) and/or Abt (about). Make notes like between 1890-1895. Dates also should be logged date/month/year. For instance; 8 Feb 1765. Locations should be town/county/state. You may not have the full information, log what you have. Maybe you just have the county and state, or maybe only the state.
If you are using software, check first (once you've added several people) to see if you have them in your database before creating a new person. Upload any photos you have for the person, birth/death certificates, marriage licenses, and so on.
Regarding census sheets; they can be very useful as they can help you link your family and kinfolks. Understand though, that census sheets only tell you the entities living in a particular household. Don't take for granted that because someone is living in a household that they are related to your family. My Great-grandfather is listed on another family's census record because he was working for them at the time, he is un-related. I have another Great Aunt who had lost her husband and another woman moved in to help care for the multiple children. She is unrelated. Other distant family members that have uploaded their tree to the internet have incorrectly confused this by listing them as children of the head of household. It may or may not be the case, just be mindful.
Some Free Links To Get You Started
Here are some invaluable resources I use to sort out my family tree. You can find more information about your family, historical records, and gravesites. You may find old photos, marriage licenses, birth & death certificates, military draft cards, and more.
Public Library - Visit your local library either in person or online. They have all sorts of resources. Library cards are often free. If you go in person, the library has an account with Ancestry.com that you will be able to use via their account.
ACPL Genealogy Center https://acpl.lib.in.us/genealogy - Mainly Indiana but it offers resources and databases for various states as well.
National Archives https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/start-research - Has a variety of civilian records.
AfriGeneas https://www.afrigeneas.com/ - Has African American records.
AccessGenealogy https://accessgenealogy.com/ - Has an assortment of USA records.
Native American History & Genealogy https://accessgenealogy.com/native-american - Has Native American records.
USGenWeb Project http://www.usgenweb.org/index.html - A portal for all 50 states and has various records within.
US Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ - National newspaper databases.
Find A Grave https://www.findagrave.com/ - Locate gravesites and photos of grave markers. Sometimes you can find family photos as well.
Family Search https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NYGM-WWP - England Births & Christenings from 1538-1975.
FamilySearch https://www.familysearch.org/en/ - USA, contains a variety of records.
US Southern Colonies https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Project:US_Southern_Colonies - Information regarding US Colonies prior to 1776.
Passenger Search https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger - Travel and passenger records.
Genealogy Primer https://www.statueofliberty.org/discover/genealogy-primer/ - Contains resources.
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation https://www.statueofliberty.org/ellis-island/family-history-center/ - Contains immigration records
The Point Is To Have Fun
Now that you know the basics and some tools to get started, I hope you enjoy the adventure of discovering more about your roots. Family, whether you like them or not, all have a story to tell of their own. Learning more about them can help you understand who they were and why they made the decisions they did. I have family members that fought in every war, they fought for the freedoms we have today. My family contains a long line of farmers that worked from daylight till dark to feed and clothe their families. I have family that lived away from civilization, way up on top of the Appalachian Mountains where times were the hardest of the hard. I've traced some lines to the first colonies here in the states, family that fought for the British and family that fought for the new America. England, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Native Americans, and more, are all in there somewhere, somehow joined. Leaving me here today to wonder about it all.
It has been an interesting, ongoing journey to discover who they were and how they lived. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I do. Have a blessed day and thank you for reading.