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December 26, 2013

Tracing Your Family History: How to Get Started

If you’ve decided to take on the task of chronicling your family history, you’re not alone. Genealogy has become a hobby for millions of older adults. Many resources have been developed to help you learn about your heritage. Before you turn to genealogy websites or the local library, you may want to put together a plan.

Here we take a look at some tips for starting your family history search:

Start With What You Know

Like any good detective, you’ll want to take an inventory of what you already know about your history. Sketch a rough family tree, adding as much detail as possible about names, birthdays, marriages, children, vocations, and especially where your relatives lived. As your sketch comes together, you’ll likely notice gaps that need further investigation. Don’t forget to reference any documents you might have that relate to your research. 

Enlist The Help Of Family Members

You may not remember your great aunt’s married name, but perhaps your sister does. Once you have exhausted your knowledge of the family history, talk to family members to get an even better picture. Also, ask family members for any documents related to the family’s history they might have available. These might be photos, legal documents, such as birth or death certificates, or newspaper clippings.

Check Your Work

Memories can fade over time, so it’s important not to take information for granted without backing it up. Once you’ve filled out the family tree as much as you can, seek records you or your family members don’t yet have in your possession. Your local library and county records office should be able to help you find marriage, birth, death, census, or military service records for your family members. This is where location becomes important: Local governments will only have records for their own municipality. Some records may be available online, while others will require a trip in person to the records office. Your research in checking your records for accuracy could lead to new discoveries about your family history.

Set Your Goals

Perhaps you’re satisfied with a relatively simple family tree going back two or three generations. If that’s the case, once you’re done checking your work, you can move on to finding ways to preserve what you’ve learned. However, if your preliminary investigation has sparked further interest, you may want to delve deeper into the research process. Decide what you would like to get out of your family research and set some goals for your investigation. Perhaps consider joining a genealogical society or history club in your area that can help you with continued research.

We’ll be discussing tracing your family in more detail in the upcoming weeks. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss it!

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