Genealogy: How to Get Started on Your Family Tree

There is nothing more exciting than unlocking the mysteries of your own past. With each additional clue your ancestors
will cease to be just a name or date on a genealogical form. In this process you will realize that they were people just
like you and me. They went through hard times, sadness, triumphs and laughter. Most of them were just ordinary people, without fame or glory. Yet, they had the courage to leave everything behind and sail across a vast ocean in search of
a better life.

American history never meant that much to me until I began researching, now it is real and very personal. I still marvel at
my seven-time great-grandfather who at the age of forty-four crossed the mountains to take on Cornwallis’ army at King’s Mountain. Nor should we forget the wives who stayed behind to protect the fields, the homes and their children. These
were the people who forged our nation and left us a legacy. These people were more than the founders of our country –
they were our ancestors. Sadly, their names and memories are often lost to the distant past, but you can change this. You can reclaim their amazing accomplishments for you and your family.

In genealogy you always start from the present and work backwards. You should approach the search as an investigating detective, looking for clues, interviewing sources and documenting your facts. This is important because you need to be
able to prove that your lineage is correct. Anyone can claim, or even believe, they are a descendant of George Washington,
but proving it is another thing altogether.

The first thing you need to do is gather all the information you can from family members. This is especially true of the
older generation, who may leave us all too soon. Get them to share stories about their childhood and memories of older
relatives. Document every detail, because stories like how ‘great-uncle George’, went to the Alaskan gold rush is a
priceless memory. Chances are, these kinds of stories would be lost forever if you do not write them down. Ask family members if there are any old family bibles, because this was once the way people documented their families. Some of
these bibles go back generations and will give you a great head-start. Look for clues on the backs of old photographs.
Often pictures will be labeled something like “Aunt Minnie Sparks in Los Angeles California.” You now have a sibling’s
name, her married name and a place they were probably living at the time the picture was taken.

There are many sites on the Internet that offer advice on doing Genealogy. Cyndi’s Beginners page has a list of links that
will help you get started. Another important tool are genealogical forms, which will guide you on what information you
really need to gather. On the back of the form write down the date you filled it in and who gave you this information. This
will now become a part of your family tree documentation.

In the past ten years the Internet has exploded with resources for the genealogist. Thanks to volunteers there are
state-websites with links to every county. These sites allow you to place a ‘query’ about your ancestors. They also
have a list of resources and sometimes even list extensive records online. The US GenWeb also has a national archives search engine. Then there are the free mail-lists you can join. These lists are geared to a specific surname, county,
or even a state. They are full of information others have submitted pertaining to that subject and even include archives
that you can search through.

Want to get the kids involved? Genealogy is a great way to get your children interested in history. Children really enjoy
learning about their Family’s history and you will find it to be a unique educational tool. A good website for children is “Climbing Your Family Tree for Kids,” another good resource is “Tips for Interviewing.”

Now lets start looking for cousins. The internet provides a great resource to meet and exchange information with those
who are also researching your family line. I found more ‘cousins’ and information online in just a couple of years than
I did in all the previous years combined. Genealogical forums, like GenForum are great places to meet people
researching the same lines. The biggest mistake people make with internet research is failing to back up what they
learn from other people with documents. Remember, all because someone gave you information that takes your line
back to 1710 Scotland, doesn’t make it accurate. There is a saying you need to remember “without documentation it’s not genealogy, but mythology.” Research is only as good as the documents that back it up. Still, that information they gave
you is invaluable, as it shows you where to start looking for those needed records. This is something that may have
taken years to discover on your own. Oh, and don’t be shy, there is nothing genealogists love more than sharing what
they know.

Land records are valuable documents, as they help locate exactly where our ancestors lived (the state and country web
sites discussed above will sometimes list deed records). The Bureau of Land Management is wonderful online resource.

There isn’t anything difficult about starting genealogy. Just take that first step and you will soon be compiling information that even your grandparents didn’t know. The knowledge you hunt down today will be passed on to future generations. This is a priceless gift to give to our children and a great tribute to those who went before us.

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