Chapter 5 : Where You Need To Start Your Journey

To start your own genealogy project, you do need to start at the beginning, which means getting some paper and pencils out (not pens, because information is likely to change as you go!) and to start talking to your family about what they may be able to tell you.

Your first stop should be those that are older than you, the older the better.  Start with parents, your grandparents, your uncles and your aunts.  Anyone that’s in your family’s line is an ideal person to start your research with. 

Here are some of the most important pieces of information to gather.

  • List their name, including any maiden names they may have.
  • List their date of birth and the location of their birth, especially the city
  • Question about their youth, where did they grow up, what type of life they lived, what religious organizations they were part of.
  • Who were their parents?  What information about their parents can they provide to you?  This should include information about where and when the parents were married, grew up or anything additional that they can tell you.
  • When was the individual you are talking to married?  Where were they married?
  • Where did their parents meet?  Where did their parents work, live and do the things that they did?
  • Locations of parent’s burial sites can be helpful as well.  When they died, where they were buried including the cemetery name if available is important.
  • Who was their family growing up?  Did they have aunts, uncles, cousins, distant family members that they remember?  Gather the same information for these individuals as well.
  • Are there family members that are living close by them? 
  • Are there family members that are buried at the same cemetery as relatives?  If so, were and what were their names?
  • Ask about their living relatives and the deceased relatives.  Is there anyone in the family still alive that’s a generation above them that you can talk to?  If so, how can you reach them?

Asking these questions is just the start, but a powerful one.  You want to open up the lines of communication between you and those that you have alive and available to you.  One of the best ways to do this is to use stories.

The Benefit Of Stories

Although facts are an important part of the process of learning about those that are in your ancestral line, it’s also important for you to consider the stories that these people can tell you, too.

Stories can do quite a bit for you.  Obviously, they are important to note for your own understanding of who these people were that are in your family lines.  If a person is someone that your grandmother remembers, she can tell you lots of stories about growing up with them.

This allows you to get to know these individuals and really to learn who they were.  That’s important for creating a family history that offers you a real in depth look at the people, their personalities and their characteristics.  In effect, it brings these people back to life for you.

But, stories can do much more for you as well.  Let’s say that your grandmother starts to talk about her cousin Sue that she grew up with.  You don’t know Sue so this is something that you want to hear about. 

As you listen to her talk about Sue, you learn details about where Sue moved, who she married, where she went after she was married and even children that she may have had. 

This means that you now have a more complete family history and family tree that are available to you.  You can now pursue Sue or her descendants and get another branch of your tree growing. 

Stories can make all of these important facts come to life, which is something that you need.  While this is just one example of how they can be beneficial to you, imagine what can happen when you start talking to many people and how their stories can add up to very detailed people.

On the other hand, if you walked up to your grandmother and simple asked her about her family tree, she may mention Sue but that’s about all she may remember.  But, opening up memories is a great way to learn about your family tree in much more detail and with many more benefits through the process as well.

It’s important to talk to as many people as you can that are still alive.  The fact is that these people are sources of information that you can then use to help propel you throughout your journey.  This is the easy stuff, the information that is readily available.  Take full advantage of this information as it will be the easiest to get.

It’s important to record the information that is provided to you as well.  Even if you are taking written notes, you may be able to go back to your recordings and hear another clue or detail that you missed.  Or, you may be able to use this information later for other information that you uncover although right now it may not seem important. 

Keep lots of tapes and a recording device available to you to make the process as smooth as possible.  Keep these items safe, throughout the process, too.

Creating A Family Tree

Now that you have this information, the next step is putting it in its place.  This may be one of the more complicated processes that you have to go through, but its going to be fun, too.

You have two options.  First off, you can use just paper and your notes to create your family tree, which will look like a tree with all of its branches.  But, this is hard to keep organized and can be a good tool if it is used correctly and managed. 

The other option that you have is Family Tree Software products which can help you to determine an effective, electronic method of managing your family tree.  In a later chapter we will talk more about how software can aid you in the process of uncovering your family tree.  Its important, though to consider it as a tool for organization if not for finding your family members.

Placing the names of those people that you have learned about on your family tree is a process that requires a good eraser.  It will be fun to put the pieces together, but it will also be difficult to organize. 

Tips For Managing Your Family Tree

These tips will help you to get your family tree up and running.  Your goal is to do the best that you can to keep it organized, so that it is easy for you to use later.

  • Group each person by the family that they belong to.  If they have more than one connection, place these families near each other, and show their relation.
  • Group families by how they are related.  If the two men are brothers, note this.  Determine how each family relates to each other and note it.
  • Sometimes, using index cards can help you to keep large families organized.  Even for those that are alive, create an immediate family index card, which includes the family, members, dates of birth and location that you can refer to later, over and over again.
  • Place blank spots near those people that you haven’t found.  For example, if you find out that there’s a sister to one of your cousins that you don’t know their name, mark that there is a sister.  Later you may find their name and information.

Every once in a while, go back to the beginning of the project and see if there are any blanks that you can fill in.  Often, you can learn a lot without realizing it.

It also pays to include others in this information that you’ve found.  For example, if you are working on your genealogy project with your sister or aunt, when they see your family tree laid out, they may remember some additional information from the information that you have gathered.  This information is important to gather.

The Importance Of Pictures

Another path that you should go down with each of the people that you talk with is that of pictures.  While you may not have a lot of photos yourself of your past generations, you probably have pictures of your parents and your grandparents that are treasured by you.  You would never give up those pictures because they hold memories for you and the same holds true for others.

Let’s say that as you are talking to your mother about her family tree she realizes that she has some photos of her childhood and perhaps you would like to look at them?  By doing this it can help you to ask questions and even learn more.

While looking at the photos you may find a picture of someone you don’t know.  A question gets you an answer and the end result is another name is filled in on your chart! 

In addition to gathering people’s names and information, a genealogy project can also be benefited by having other information from the photos.  You can learn what they are doing in the picture, where it was taken, perhaps what school it was from and even information about the ages of people in relation to others.

This information is easy to benefit from in a genealogy search.  Make sure that you talk to every person that you have in your family about the photos that they may have.  Or, even ask if their parents had photos that may be tucked away some place that you could look at.  Even without first hand accounts from the people in your family can help you.  A simple note on the back of the photo provides great information to you.

Photos are also prized possessions to use in creating your family tree, too.  For example you can easily place these on your documentation to make names come to life.

The fact is that it’s essential for you to actually learn as much as you can through this process from those that are still alive. 

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