Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting Started

One thing that I can't stress enough is to start as soon as you can researching your family tree.  As the older members of your family pass away, it becomes harder and harder to do your research.

One of the sad things about genealogy is that it often takes a death in the family, usually that of one or both of your parents to make you realize how important it is to know your family roots.  I know that in my case, it was the death of my mother, that made me realize I knew little to nothing about her side of my family.  Fortunately I had a very complete genealogy history of my father's side of the family because my Great Grandmother, Grandmother, and two of my Aunts were members of D.A.R. (Daughter's of the American Revolution) and documented genealogy history was required for membership. 

Being the oldest grandchild and most likely the only one concerned with documenting her family history,  I wanted my children and grandchildren to have a clear understanding of both sides of my family.  In my quest to begin this journey, I thought it might be helpful to blog about my journey and perhaps help others who are also traveling this road.

One thing that I am endeavoring to do is include as many stories about the family (both sides) as possible in order to help future generations get to know their relatives by more than just names and dates laid out on sheets of paper. 

So with that being said, start now with all your living relatives, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and begin gathering family stories (a tape recorder would be great to have to help you with this) by sitting down and visiting with them.  Many people find that family reunions are wonderful times to gather genealogy information and we will cover that in one of our blog posts.

Start with what you know about each generation and work backwards. Be careful about gathering not only legal names but also nicknames as well because they might also show up in different records. I am going to suggest that you begin by sticking to your direct line and then if you wish you can go back later and start adding the different branches of your family tree. What I am referring to is, as siblings or aunts and uncles in your prior generations marry, you may wish to add their information of who they married and their children also. Many people enjoy expanding their tree as much as possible while others just like to do their direct descendant lineage only.

Starting with your parents, gather their full legal names, your mother's maiden name,  dates of birth, where they were  born, when and where they married and be sure to list all your siblings, their birth dates and where they were born. If you can, get a copy of their birth certificates and marriage license.  You can order these items if they are deceased.  If they are deceased, be sure to get the dates of their death, where they died and where they are buried and a copy of their death certificates.

In my own case, my parents divorced when I was just thirteen and both of them remarried. In such cases, it is often difficult to get the new spouse to share information with you.

Setting Up Your Records

I would suggest setting up two notebooks, one for your father's side and one for your mother's side of the family,  in which to record and store your information. You will want to obtain some plastic insert pages in which to keep your important court documents, such as birth and death certificates, copies of census reports that you might make, records of immigration and or naturalization and which ships they may have taken to come to America on.

You will also want to use a good family tree computer program in which to enter your information in a standardized format that you can later share with others either over the Internet, make copies onto CD's for other family members, or just make various types of records and reports for yourself onto hard copy documentation.  I will advise that no matter what computer programs you use, be sure to back it up often and to make backup discs frequently in case you have any computer problems where you might lose all your records.  It would also be wise to make paper copies periodically for this same reason.

Comparing Software Programs

First off, please check out this website which reviews the top ten genealogy software programs and see which one meets your needs the best. When I first started, I was not sure what program I wanted to use and I had limited resources but I knew I wanted to get started right away. Therefore I chose to use a free program which I am still using at the present time. This is from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, who are probably one of the largest  depositories of genealogical records that there is world wide. Their website, is always one of my very first "go to" starting points for locating information. Way over on the right side of this page you will see where it says you can download a free PAF and PAF companion basic files and I would recommend that you grab both of them if you are going to use their free program.  It has served me well over the years but I can see that I am going to be upgrading to a program that I've had my eye on for some time now. 

I'm one of these people who gets "side-tracked" really easy. I'll be working on more than one family at a time and I will often go off on "rabbit hole chases" (which I will explain later) and lose track of where I am at and then end up retracing my steps instead of moving forward in my research.

So get out your pen and paper, along with a tape recorder if you have one and start gathering your information.  See you back here soon and we'll talk about where to go on the Internet to begin your searching. Be sure to try and go back on information to at least your grandparents and if at all possible your great grandparents generation, at least with their names if nothing else. If your parents are still living, most likely you will not find any information on them at all on the Internet, therefore it will be most beneficial to be able to go back to at least your grandparents.

When we meet again, we will discuss how to start your journey to the past.

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