You might already have a bit of knowledge regarding your family history. You might have some old photographs, maybe you have some documents, and you almost certainly have a burning curiosity. Here is a quick look at some basic steps that can help you get started on the adventure of a lifetime… tracing your family history.
Genealogy sites are a great way to trace your family history. If you go to the right ones, you will have access to newspaper articles going back hundreds of years along with billions of genealogy records and obituaries. Some of them will even be able to give you access to military records from all of the American wars. Sites such as this offer a wealth of knowledge that you might not otherwise have access to.
Government and historical records can actually give you quite a bit of information regarding your family history. You can access state archives, the Genealogy page of the Census Bureau, the Nationwide Gravesite locator, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation. Also, if you are of Native American descent, the DOI (Department of Interior) has a guide that can walk you through exploring that particular lineage.
While you can find factual data from the avenues above, what about anecdotal information? You get that stuff through other avenues. To get started with that side of things, gather everything you have – family heirlooms, documents, photos, and papers – together. Go through the basement or attic, the backs of the closets, the filing cabinets. Once you have done that, go to your relatives and ask them to share their documents with you. You can get a lot of clues about your family history right from the back side of old photos, in your family bible, or even from postcards. If your relatives do not feel comfortable letting their precious documents out of their grasp, try to get copies made of them, or take scans or pictures of the old documents and pictures.
While you are collecting your family records, set some time aside to interview some of your relatives from the older generation. Start with your parents and then move on from them. I have a cousin from an older generation from whom I get information. It is so interesting to listen to her telling stories from the older days and about people in the family who I might never have known about otherwise. That is another thing, try to collect various stories, as opposed to just dates and names. Be sure when you are talking to these elders that you ask open ended questions so you get more than a yes or no answer. Interviews like this don’t need to make you nervous and they can be held just as if you were having a normal conversation. This can be the most critical step in getting your family history researched. Also, be sure to ask if there are published records or genealogy books about your family that are already in existence. Something like that can give you a marvelous head start.
Make sure that you are writing all of the information that you have learned from your family down. Once that is down, you can begin to enter it into a family tree chart or pedigree. If you happen to be unfamiliar with these types of things, you can find instructions for filling them out at a multitude of sites online. Charts such as these will give you a good at a glance type of overview of your entire family and make it that much easier to track the progress of your research.
You know how much time and effort that you will be putting into this family history, right? Did you realize that we are a part of the first generation with the capability of making things like this easier for future generations? In the process of tracing your family history, you can actually be building a digital family archive that will be treasured for generations to come. This can actually become a part of your legacy.