Are you beginning your genealogy search for your ancestors? It is tempting to dive in and start adding grandparents and greatgrandparents names and children into a brand new software program. However, before you get too far into your ancestor lines, you need to know a few basics to help your tree be a correct, accurate, and detailed one that will stand up to scrutiny. Here are 7 Tips to help you.
Take some time and follow these simple guidelines as you step backwards in time, from the present time, to the past. Hint:Write down the Source of your information in the correct manner on a Master List, with the correct citation style, plus the names and birthdates of the individuals described.
Tip #1: Work from the present to the past, the known to the unknown.
You know the most about yourself, your siblings, and your parents. Gather information from any original documents that you and your parents may have stored away, such as birth and marriage records, photos of family members including extended family members, newspaper clippings (birth, marriage, death notices, and more), education records, military service records, naturalization papers, and other memorabilia. Perhaps your father has his military information tucked away with a photo of several of his soldier colleagues or with a medal. Perhaps your mother kept a copy of her parents’ records/tickets coming from Scotland, including the name of the specific ship, and the ports of departure and arrival. Start digging, but start with those close to you.
Tip #2: Next, identify all gaps of information you see in your records.
Do you have a birthdate but no details of birthplace for an individual? There’s a story that your grandfather came to Canada a year or so before grandmother and 5 kids came; when was it that either of them came from Scotland or England? How did they get there? Do you have a death date but no note of where the individual was buried? You think your great grandparents and one of their siblings came together with another couple, and there’s a story that one of those children married into the family, but who is who? And when?
Aim for filling in the basics of Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial; later you could add emigration, military service if known, land records and so on. Use a Master List of possible documents/events that an individual may have experienced in order to guide your searches.
Tip #3: Ask – ask all your relatives for information, copies of documents, and other details.
Ask your relatives if they have any old documents, or old correspondence from relatives in the “old country”. Those names and places will give you more clues for future searches. Your grandmother’s brother’s family may have some old photos tucked away with details of the home or farm, and more. An uncle’s family may have medals of your great grandfather’s military service. A cousin may have found a few interesting photos of the 1860s of your great-Aunts. Perhaps there is actually a family Bible with details going back to the late 1700s! You will never know unless and until you ask.
Tip #4: Search in a circle around an ancestor’s known residence.
In general, families tended to stay together, and neighbours worked on each others farms, sometimes intermarrying. If one individual moved to another state, often another relative came soon afterwards. Take time to look up the address of a known ancestor on old maps, and search for relatives and common neighbours in a circle of 103 miles. You may find even more relatives with this method. Sometimes in a culture, it was common for adult children to live very close to one’s parents, so that by 3 generations you may uncover all brothers and sisters and their families using this method of search. I have found young adult brothers living in a boarding situation on the next street from their main family home, this way. The 1850 Census of a town or village may cover as few as 50 pages. You will be able to quickly scan through these pages to find your relatives, once you are familiar with the census-taker’s writing style.
Tip #5: Search one family line at a time.
By the time you are looking at your grandfather’s grandfather, you are at 5 generations, and have 8 family lines listed for your tree. Don’t get confused and distracted by doing bits and pieces of all of them – it’s simply too overwhelming. Instead, choose one line, perhaps because you think you have some good documents and family stories to support that line in your family tree. Methodically, work backwards through from one family to their parents, through their siblings (brothers/sisters) and their families, and then backwards again, following the direct ancestor line. Fill in the basics again: Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial. If you have a Family Group sheet record, you could note which information to look for, considering where they lived, what decades they lived in, what world or area events were happening.
Tip #6: Celebrate and inform your relatives of your findings!
There’s no point in doing this without sharing it with others in the family. You will likely only find a few who are truly interested in what you are doing – they may enjoy helping in the research. Others may be very glad that it is YOU who is doing the research, not them, but they are interested in various tidbits you find along the way. Perhaps you could send out a periodic newsletter to the family members, asking them to spread it out to others in the family, including interesting dates/names/events/copies of photos, etc. Perhaps it might be time to have a family reunion, and share all of this with a larger group!
Tip #7: If you decide to put a family tree online, THINK before you do it.
Keep private information – private! Your aunt may not appreciate the information that she gave up her first child when she was 16 in the family tree – even though many in the family knew this information. Your stories and notes may be too personal for a public tree. Always mark the birth and death dates of individuals so that living persons’ details are always kept hidden. If you don’t know those dates of some of your relatives, make an estimate, so that the person is noted as living and their information kept hidden. Most websites which offer free online family trees have software that will automatically exclude living persons’ details, but you need to find out how that works first. One last point about online trees: make sure that only one person has the controls to edit and change details (likely, you). Encourage relatives to send you any corrected details (with the source information to make certain that it IS correct!), and you can update the family tree on a regular basis, for everyone to see.
In summary: Start with what you know, keep records of all sources with their correct citations, ask your relatives to help, assume family members lived nearby and search in a circle, search one family line at a time, share your findings, and make sure your public tree does not contain private information. Enjoy your searches as you build your family tree!