Posted on | August 25, 2011 | Comments Off
You are interested in genealogy and want to start creating a family tree. Where do you start? Not the internet, that’s for sure, or you will suddenly have so much information that you will feel overwhelmed – and the vast majority will be of no use to you. Nor should you pay for any genealogical software or services in the hope that they will do better, because you will be wasting your time – and your money!
In order to trace your ancestry and create a family tree you need some raw material – certainly a lot more than just your name and your parent’s names. However, that is where to start – with you. Record your details, and then those of your parents: their names and where and when they born. Then your grandparents – you may have to ask around for these details, and will almost certainly have to do so for earlier ancestors if you want a clearer picture of your genealogy.
My Family Tree: Where do I begin?
Visit your elderly relatives, or hold a party and get them all together in one place to discuss the issue. Have some old photograph albums ready and maybe some old wedding or family photographs handy. Then ask each relative what they know about the elder members of your family – also find out their own date and place of birth and their maiden names for females. Grandparents, old aunts and great aunts would be ideal to question – and the male equivalents, though it’s usually the women that remember the old relatives.
Now you have something to start with- names including maiden names, ages, dates of birth and where they were born. Old addresses would be useful, and you could ask if any have old family bibles where families used to list their children and when they were born. This will remove a lot of the uncertainty when you finally go online or carry out some offline searches in parish church records and so on.
All of this information can make the difference between success and failure, and don’t just stop at the raw details: try to get into their skin, and find out how they lived their lives, what they worked at and what they did for fun. Really get to know them, and then your family can come alive. A history of real people – not just anonymous names. What made them laugh and cry.
Naturally you will have to be careful that the information is correct, and it’s useful to be able to confirm anything that doesn’t quite ring true. Sometime stories become embellished with time, but generally you should get there in the end. Then you can start searching online. Try to focus on married couples with children, because childless couples or single people are often difficult to follow up. Take the view that you are seeking the parents of those in your family tree – once you have found one parent, search back again for their parents and so on.
Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact dates of birth or death – creating a family tree doesn’t have to have accurate dates – just accuracy in the people involved. What you are doing is trying to prove that the information your elderly relatives gave you is correct, and once you get that confirmed by records you will feel you are really getting somewhere.
Try to work down your direct line of ancestors – those responsible for your life. Aunts and uncles are not direct ancestors because they had nothing to do with your being born: parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on are what you are looking for. Then branch out to the so-called collateral relatives: your cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, second cousins and the same relatives of your parents and so on.
There will be gaps – lots of them to begin with, but the farther you get the more the gaps will become easier to fill. The farther back in time you go the more difficult it will get, since online records only go so far. In the UK, census records stop at 1841 for example and in 1890 for the USA. You may be lucky and find online parish, county or state records going back farther in your country, or you may have to physically search through parish records and church records.
DNA genetic genealogy is a useful new technique that can be used to determine relationships between you and any old samples of DNA you can find. However, it is of particular if you have contact with other families with your surname, where DNA sampling and testing can determine if you are related, and how far back that relationship originates. Private DNA testing is not particularly expensive and the cost can be shared between the families involved.
Once you have gone as far as you can with one branch of your family, go on to the other branch. You might be lucky and find some overlap, but generally not. However, that’s the way to go about genealogy and create a family tree – one side of your family at a time, and take it slowly at first, getting all the word of mouth and hearsay information you can before spending money using internet facilities on genealogy and family trees.