If you want to learn more about your ancestors, you need to know how to begin. Luckily, it is not rocket science, and you can learn a lot by following these three first steps, baby steps, to build your family tree. Are you having difficulty figuring out exactly where to begin? Whether to go down to all the littlest babies in the family? Or, back a number of generations to your ancestors in the “old country”? Who is the first person you should put into the tree? Mom? Grampa? The short answer is that you can do any of the above, depending on the reason(s) you are wanting to build your family tree. But in general, there are a few basic steps about starting to build your family tree.
1. YOU, first.
That is right – start with yourself. Partly it is suggested you do this in order to teach yourself the very basics of genealogy research: details, details, details, and then correctly recording the sources of each of those details. This is excellent training when you get back several generations and have to prove that you have the correct great great grandfather, when there were 4 William Gordon Dunbar men in the same county at the same time. You have lots of information, documents and photos on yourself during various life events. You will learn how to record all life events correctly, cite your sources for these details (birth record, marriage, graduation, etc.), file your information in a practical sensible way, and then learn how to organize your next search. There is lots to learn, but “how-to” articles and guides are everywhere: on the web, in library books, in articles online as well as in magazines devoted to family trees. Learn by using yourself as the first person to research.
2. TREASURE – it is everywhere.
Start looking through cupboards, closets, drawers, trunks and old chests, basements and attics, photo albums, scrapbooks, and more. There could be something engraved, or medals, or that collectible of an exciting world event, or photos with full names and dates on the back (wow!). Search through all of your home hiding places, and let your cousins and relatives that you would appreciate seeing any items they might have that could help you build the family tree. You may find that a grandmother wrote a diary for 20 years and one aunt still has it.
Or, a great-uncle started a family tree but then died; however, one of the cousins has a copy of this work plus a few photos and documents he collected “in an old box in the attic”. Ask everyone. Interview your relatives for stories of your ancestors, as well. Family stories or traditions may have a wonderful clue to help you find an ancestor. Remember that whatever you receive from your relatives needs to be labelled as to who it came from, so you can give it back once you’ve copied or scanned it and saved all the details. Look for treasure everywhere in the various family homes. Perhaps you might have a family picnic asking people to bring and share some of their records, photos, medals, stories, and more. Most family members are happy to do this, particularly happy that it is YOU doing this family tree work!
3. ENROLL in a basic genealogy course.
Most communities these days provide workshops or courses throughout the year. For example, your public library may have a one hour workshop on how to use the particular genealogy resources available in the library. Your local genealogy society may have regular educational lectures or discussions, or groups meeting on specific topics; they may put on conferences once or more a year. Local community centers may also have a genealogist or expert amateur providing very inexpensive classes on genealogy for beginners. Do not try to do this all on your own – you will end up re-inventing the wheel, when by following the advice and recommendations of others, you may find it much easier. Avoid the pitfalls of online genealogy research, and learn about the wonderful possibilities both online and offline by enrolling in a basic genealogy course.
Next three steps?
– Join a genealogy society – they have regular workshops, conferences, publish a journal, keep a library for their members to search, and more.
– Look for a family tree software program (often free or inexpensive), and free forms or charts to help you organize the information you have found after following the above three steps.
– Get some file folders, coloured labels, coloured markers, and archival paper, so that you will be able to file your wonderful documents and copies of information or photos, correctly.
As you can see, these first three steps do not even require an internet connection or a computer at home. Much genealogy information is freely available in your library, community, and genealogy society. From family tree software reviews to free genealogy resources, there is a wealth of information and resources available to a person beginning to build a family tree. Tracing your ancestors has never been easier. Enjoy your searches.