If you are planning to start to build your family tree for your family, you are likely very excited at the possibilities about finding details of your long-last uncle, or the side of the family you know very little about, or how those 2nd cousins are related to you. Genealogy is a fascinating hobby, and luckily, is generally very cheap as well, so enjoy your searches!
But if you are like many people, you probably wonder where you should start. Perhaps you also wonder if you should start with your parents and work forwards through their children to the latest relatives. Or, should you start with your children and work backwards in time through ancestors in the past? There are good reasons for doing either of those two options, or other options as well. Here are some ideas to guide you as you begin.
1. Why and for what purpose?
Think first about why you are wanting to begin researching your family tree. For yourself – so that you understand more about your father’s family, or how and why your ancestors came over to Canada? Or, perhaps you simply want to let your children and grandchildren know something about your parents and grandparents and their early lives around the turn of the century. Some individuals want to keep track in one place of all the cousins and living relatives in order to have a big family reunion once a year. Others want to set up a family reunion of all the ancestors in one family surname line only – perhaps because an ancestor was an important politician or celebrity, or because an early ancestor immigrated to Canada in the 1600s! There could be many very personal reasons to build a family tree. Think carefully about your reasons, and let those guide your research.
2. You as the #1 Ancestor!
If you start with yourself as an ancestor and add forwards to the present time of all living descendants: you then have a family tree of only yourself, your spouse(s), your children, and your grandchildren. With photographs, records, maps and other momentoes, you could build a very interesting scrapbook for your grandchildren of life as you were growing up. You could add favourite music, what you liked to do for fun, games to play in the evenings, details of your first jobs (wages: 25 cents/hour!), and other interesting bits of information. This would provide a snapshot for your family only.
3. Your Grandparents’ tree of descendants.
If you started with your grandparents (4 individuals) and work forwards to the present time, you would be able to add very interesting information on the grandparents’ lives and times they lived in. Wars, immigration, occupations, inventions – there is much detail available to add to this kind of family tree. Since you start with your grandparents, then for your grandchildren, the tree will include 5 generations in time. This would be a great gift for your grandchildren, particularly as you are likely going to be able to add photographs, copies of ship arrivals, maps of where they lived, and more. How exciting! Much more than a photograph album, your family tree would include details of their daily lives growing up in various regions, occupations, travels, and the historical context of their lives.
4. You as the Final Descendant.
Some individuals want to start with themselves and work backwards in time through their ancestors for up to 5-7 generations if possible. Note you will have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, and 32 great-great-great-grandparents! That is assuming there are no divorces or early deaths with 2nd marriages, as well. To help keep track of their ancestors, you may wish to track your ancestors through 4 specific family lines (your grandparents’ surnames). This will give you four family trees to research, and to write about. Each surname could have their own “book” about where they originated, with details of each generation down through the family. Four “books” joined together could make one family genealogy. The bare bones details could be written out in a family tree poster, to be given to current relatives.
5. One Gigantic Tree -?
Others who research their family tree, find that they like to keep everything together in one family tree, with all the aunts and uncles, their parents, their children, cousins, and more. All one gigantic family tree of relatives! If you wish to do this, then start with yourself as the #1 person in the tree, add the details of your marriage and children to living relatives in the present. Then start working backwards through the family lines. In this instance, you will not just be looking at direct ancestors in one line, you will be searching for all the brothers and sisters of each ancestor, and their children, into the present time. Such a search will sometimes help you find “missing” cousins or relatives, as I did when I found 2 first-cousins, lost for over 40 years! Or you may see very specific naming patterns in one line of the family. Or you may see that one family line tends to have only boys, or they tend to all be travellers or musicians. There are fascinating patterns that may come to light with the One Gigantic Tree approach to family tree research.
Hopefully you will find these several ideas helpful as you begin to build a family tree. These days, much information is available for free on the internet, and family tree software is also freely available. Whatever you decide to do, remember that once you have begun to research, keep your findings well-documented so you can share information with authority. And, write out your information so that others can enjoy the exciting finds you have made in your family tree research!