01 March 2011

How to get started in researching your family tree

Genealogy has been a passion of mine ever since I was in high school.  My mother came home from my maternal grandmother's funeral with a list of descendants from her grandfather, a list one of my cousins had made.  I remember looking at it and the family tree that my great-aunt had created for the family years ago and wondered if I could find anything new on any of our family members.  12 years later, I can easily show my ancestry to the 17th century on some family branches and have helped connect countless people together, all for the fun of it. (For anyone interested - Here is a link to my family tree research)

Recently, a friend asked me how she could get started on researching her family tree.   In answer to her question, I felt the need to type this blog.

The best way to start researching your family tree is to start with your own family.  write down your date of birth and place.  Write in your spouse and their date of birth and place, as well as where and when you got married.  Fill in information for any children and other descendants.  Then start working backwards.  Write down siblings and where they were born and their children.  Fill out parental info as best as you can.  Keep working backwards as far as you can go, even if it is just names of each family member.

Next, start asking questions of relatives still alive.  I remember calling my paternal grandmother and asking her when her dad was born.  My mother's father was a great help in enlisting the help of his surviving siblings (many who have sadly passed away since then) in getting me information. I have found email surveys have worked best for asking relatives questions.  They can get to them at their leisure and also have all of the questions right in front of them.  Keep in mind that not everyone will be forthcoming with information, and more often then not you must respect that some relatives don't want to dwell on the past.

After you have exhausted your relatives, it is time to move to the internet.  Searching the net can be daunting, but there is a treasure trove of information out there.  The best way to start is to use free websites to expand your search. Here are two FREE sites I like to use:

This is by far my most favorite site to use for researching a new name I find for my family tree.  I also like to use it to find new info on relatives and ancestors when I seem to have hit a wall.  The best part of this site is the completely free World Connect Project that allows virtually anyone to post their family tree information on the site via a .gedcom file.  The worst part is more often then not, info can be misleading or incorrect and can be copied easily, leading to several people with misleading information.  However, it is a great way to connect with relatives and people researching your family name.  There is also a few links to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), many different Freepage websites, mailing lists for people with common genealogical interests, and a lot of resources to help the beginning researcher get started or help even the old pros with a brick wall.  You will have to register for a free account to use some of the information on this site, but it is worth it.  Keep in mind also that this site is run by Ancestry.Com, which also has a free two week trial to most of its content.

Run by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, this site has similar information to Rootsweb in that they allow some family tree submissions and have access to the SSD.  This site also allows access to free historical records and even will let you see images of some of those records with a free registered membership.  Recently, there was a overhaul of the site that makes it much easier to search documents and information for your family. 

Of course, if you have an unusual name (for example, in my maternal tree there is the surnames of Waldspurger and Heffentrager), sometimes googling the name works as well.    You can come across a treasure trove of gemswith an uncommon last name.

I hope this information helps with starting your family tree! Feel free to ask questions if you'd like,

And if anyone needs any cemetery lookups from the surrounding Des Moines area, let me know!  I will do them for free.

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