October 17th, 2012
When guests see the photographs you’ve displayed on your wall, they really want to hear about the stories behind the pictures. Researching your family tree can be fun and inexpensive. An older relative may enjoy helping you find more of the stories from their childhood as well.
Let’s look at how to get started, addressing common stumbling blocks, mapping the migration of relatives, and how to search all that online information to get what you need quickly and for free.
In the case of genealogy, you can’t really begin at the beginning since you won’t know where the branches go. So start at the end with you. Then start drawing backwards what you know, and talk with relatives about who they remember as well as birth dates, death dates, additional children, etc.
Sometimes, families won’t talk about some things. There may have been the sister who ran off and was never talked about again. It’s important to assure the older relatives that you’re not going to do anything to embarrass them; you are only interested in recording the facts.
About.com has a step-by-step list for getting started. They recommend staying on one surname and following it as far as you can before changing gears. It depends upon how you like to do research, and remember that this should be fun.
Let’s face it…there are a lot of John Smith’s and Bob Brown’s out there, not to mention Jane Cooper’s. How can you figure out which is your relative? Ancestry.com has a reference guide for sifting through the data to find your relative. The important thing to remember is that they were an individual, and there are clues in records like the Census and church records that will help you identify which Elizabeth Bordon was your great-great aunt who went by the nickname Bitsy rather then one who went by Lizzy.
It’s fascinating to watch the progression of people moving West if they came to this country through Ellis Island. Few people know that there was an “Ellis Island” in San Francisco called Angel Island.
About.com also has a page full of resources on searching, databases to use, searching by region, and searching by record type. If your great-father-in-law rode with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, you will learn how to search the military records to verify his dates of service.
Want to find out who your Great-great-uncle was married to before he, gasp, tarnished the family name by getting a divorce?
They also have how to search old newspapers for stories on your ancestors as well as pointers to old newspaper databases.
There are some databases that will cost you. So if you have time, you should look into all the free resources first. A great resource is at Squidoo on free searching online made easy. Not all of their resources are free, but they do have some good information on how to get started, and where and how to look.
Set aside some time to get started, and leave yourself notes as you go, so when you get a spare few minutes, you can do some quick research starting right where you left off.