Friday, November 3, 2017

How to Start Researching Your Family

Have you ever wondered where your family came from? Have you heard stories and legends passed down in your family and wondered if it actually happened, or was just a myth? These common questions among others, will always catch a genealogist's attention. 

Quite often, with a little bit of sleuthing, these questions can be answered. How? Well, that's what I am am here for.

Lets start by answering an initial question: what is a genealogist? Miriam-Webster's definition is, "a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families." Well, to me, that is the boring definition. To me, genealogy is more like being a detective or private investigator who collects as much information as possible regarding ancestry, including historical documents, and stories. Everyone has a story, right? But do you know what your grandfather's great grandfather did for a living? Was he rich, or poor? Was he married? If so, how many times? Was he arrested or imprisoned? Did he fight in a war? Maybe he was captured and served his time as a prisoner of war.

I will explain how I started researching my family. To begin with, I signed up for and started building my tree. What? You don't have the funds in your budget for another subscription? That's OK. Building and storing your tree on is absolutely free. Whats the subscription for, you may ask? In order to view documents such as census, burial, marriage, obituary... nevermind - RECORDS, in order to view records, you must be a subscriber. Having a paid membership is beneficial, but not required. There are other websites to search on that are completely free. Yes, free. As in no money required. Gratis! 

So let's get back to starting your tree. You will first begin by entering information about yourself, such as your name, birthday, and where you were born. Hopefully, you know this information. If not... well, maybe that will be in another blog post. Next, enter in your parents names. Hopefully, you know their information. I know, there are cases where there are adoptions, or the early death of a parent that may hinder your knowledge on your parents' information. Again, perhaps we can cover that in another future blog.

Once you enter in all of the information that you know on your family, the real fun begins! Census records!!! OK, I know to the average layman, that sounds boring. Sometimes it is, but... census records can tell you parents names, where they were from, siblings, neighbors (who are sometimes cousins), occupation, and every now and then, you stumble across an address. 

Federal Census records are taken every 10 years starting in the year 1790. The most recent census that has been released to the public is 1940. Each census record has it's own quirks. One may not list occupation, or household income. If you are looking at records before the 1850 census, you may notice that only the name of the head of household is listed. There are ways to get around this, such as state and local records, but we will get in to that later.

Ok that's about it! You can now research your family. That's it... OK, I'm fibbing. There's a lot more to discuss. You know, like the free website I was talking about. You can search records and even build a tree on But I do not recommend building your tree there because anyone can access it and make changes to it. You could put years of hard work on there building your tree for someone to delete it all. So, take my advice, don't build your tree there. BUT... they have so many records to search through and their search engine is actually better than the one on Once you find the info you are looking for, transfer it to your ancestry tree. 

Each person on your tree has their own profile page where you can upload pictures and documents. Ancestry now has a timeline feature built into each profile that spans the life of the person.

OK, I have rambled enough. I must apologize if I get a little carried away. So, I will conclude in saying, these are the basics to get started in creating your family tree. Stay tuned and don't forget to subscribe for future blog posts to learn more, and hear some stories that I have uncovered in my research about my family. Until next time...

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