Where do you come from? That’s a burning question that many of us don’t know the answer to. The best way to attempt to answer that question to build your family tree. Building a family tree is not as complicated as it may seem; it consists of three major steps. Researching, Organizing, and Publishing. Each of these steps will be addressed further.
The first main step in building your family tree is to determine your goal. Do you want to find as much as you can on both sides of your tree? Do you want to search one side? Do you want to find information to verify a family legend? Whatever the case may be, you must begin your research. Most importantly, you need to begin with the information you already know about yourself and immediate family and work backward.
Begin by asking your parents and grandparents to provide as much information as possible, and start filling in blanks from there. Be sure to also take a look at any family heirlooms, family Bibles, photographs, and diaries for information as well. There are many sources for you to find information. The Internet is the first place to go. While there are many resources out there that require some sort of paid membership, such as, www.ancestry.com, familytreelegends.com, -don’t let that hold you back! You can sign up for free trials with nearly all of the sites you may find that require a paid membership, making use of this limited time with access to all records, to find the most important information to help you continue your searches with the free resources. Also, most of these paid resources have portions of their sites that are still available for use by non-paid members-such as message boards, where you can post your research road blocks and ask other researchers for help. I once left a message on one of these types of boards, and two years later, a second cousin that I had no clue about was able to show me concrete evidence filling in a blank that I had longed to fill.
There are several free resources you can use to find the information you seek-you just have to know where to go to find them. In my years of research, I have not paid a dime for any of the information I have gathered. Mind you, I have two sides of my family traced back 14 generations. Many free resources, such as familysearch.org, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, hold much of the same information as the paid sites. Another wonderful free resource is the Social Security Death Index, found at: www. While this will only provide you with social security numbers of the deceased and the locations they were issued in; and only works for individuals who were born, or living in 1935 or later when social security numbers began being issued, you can use this information to request a copy of the original application for a social security number, which will provide you with the mother and father’s names, and dates of birth, therefore giving you one more method for filling in a few blanks you may have. Rootsweb.com is a free website sponsored by ancestry.com that allows you to access a portion of the information available from ancestry.com.
In addition to the vast amount of information available to you on the web, you can search in libraries that are dedicated to family history research. To find one of these libraries in your local area, visit familysearch.org. According to this site, there are more than 3400 of the libraries worldwide. Another wonderful resource is the Register of Deeds in your local area, though this is only a great benefit if you are looking for information that is located in your particular county. Uncertified copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, as well as land ownership records are easily attained at a low cost, in order to help you verify the information you have found. If you are no longer local to the area that holds all of that information, most of those resources can be accessed on the Internet-so not all hope is lost. For example, I was born and married in Buncombe County, North Carolina, so to obtain my records; all I would have to do is go across town. However, when I lived in Denver, CO a couple years back, I would have had to order the records online.
The next step in the tree building process is organizing the research you find. I find that it is best to organize your information as you go, rather than following these steps in a sequential order. There are varieties of organizational forms available for download for free at: www.familytreemagazine.com. While there is an extensive list of charts available for download there, three major charts will be of use to you. The forms I will be discussing with you did not come from the above mentioned website; instead they came from various others from my research a few years ago.
The first chart is the Family Group Sheet, from ancestry.com. This sheet is essential for keeping track of family groups, with places for the husband, wife, and children’s names, birth dates, and locations. In the upper left, you will see a place for “ancestral chart #” and “Family Unit #”. These numbers are numbers that you assign, to help you in keeping track of how each family is connected to the family tree as a whole. You can devise your numbering system based on your particular research goals. The computer ID column on the far right of the form, is to assist you with correlating your paper records with your digital records. In your family tree software, each individual will be assigned a number, based on order of entry into the system. While placing their number on the paper form is not necessary-it will help to maintain organization.
The next form, the family pedigree chart is meant to show relationships between family members. If I were the first person on the form, I would list my parents and all of their information on the next set of lines, then my grandparents on the next set, and so on. The numbering system on this form is used for organization as well, and is determined by you.
The last form is the Research Calendar, which will aid you in keeping track of what research was conducted where, and the results of that research. The main purpose of this form is to make sure you are not running around in circles trying to find information-and that you keep track of the source of information once you find it. Use of this form will definitely keep you organized; and you can distribute them to other family members who may be assisting you in research, while still keeping track of who is conducting what research.
While these are not the only forms you are limited to in your research organization process, these are definitely key ones to consider. Feel free to search for other forms that you feel would be of more assistance to you. Along with the use of paper forms, there are also many computer-based programs available to aid you in keeping digital records of your research. Some are free, and some require you to purchase a license to use the software. I have used both free and purchased programs and have found there isn’t much of a difference between the two. One particular free program is, GedLink Editor 1.3, which is available for download at: www.download.com. It is very easy for beginners to learn how to use, however only holds basic features of inputting family members and showing their relationships. Family Tree Legends is software requiring purchase that offers the same basic features as its free competitors, while also offering features like, the option to create books for any number of family members in your database, that include any number of reports, such as ancestor or descendant reports. With this program, you can also back up your information to CD or DVD that also includes a limited version of the software to distribute to family members. This program is available for download and purchase at: www.familytreelegends.com, at a cost of $29.95.
The final step in the process of building your family tree, may take as much time as you wish to dedicate to it. Publishing your family tree means that you have reached a place in your research where you are comfortable sharing it with others. Though you may never be fully satisfied, because no one can trace their origins back after a certain point, you should publish your tree so that others may use your information to fill in their own blanks. There are many ways to go about publishing your research. You can place your family tree online at various websites, including, https://www.ancestry.com, rootsweb.com, and . When publishing these files to the Internet, you can choose to block out the names of any living relatives to protect the sensitive details. You can use your organizational software to print the information and distribute copies to family members, etc. A published family tree makes a wonderful gift for almost any occasion, and will help your children in their school days-as oftentimes, students are given the assignment to research their family trees.
So, today we have focused on the three major steps in building your family tree, research, organization, and publishing. I hope that I have been able to clarify the process so that all of you may begin to find your heritage and do so without much complication. If you are interested, I will provide you with a list of the resources that I commonly use, as well as the ones I have mentioned throughout this speech to aid you in your quest. Don’t hesitate any longer…. everyone has a unique family history that is worth looking into.