A few years ago someone had asked me how to get started on their family tree. What follows are some ideas to help you when talking to family members or researching.
Getting Started on Your Family Tree
Compiled by LisaAnn Spalding Deeter
November 26, 2010
Basic Information to Gather For Each Family Member
- Full Birth Name
- Date of Birth
- Place of Birth – City, County, State
- Date of Baptism if Applicable
- Place of Baptism – City, County, State
- Marriage Information for each marriage
- Date of Marriage
- Place of Marriage – City, County, State
- Name of Minister of the Gospel or Justice of the Peace
- Name of Spouse (and all their vital information)
- Date of Divorce if applicable
- Place of Divorce – City, County, State
- Date of Death
- Place of Death – City, County, State
- Cause of Death if Known – good to know Family Health History
- Date of Burial or Cremation
- Place of Burial – Cemetery Name, City, County, State or Disposition of Ashes Details if applicable
- Copy of Obituary
Other Helpful Information To Ask About or Research
- Religion/Churches where they attended and were members
- Ministers/JP’s, etc who performed Baptisms, Marriages, Funerals
- Names of brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents and what the person you are talking to knows about them
- Military Service
- Where the family lived and places they moved to. Having at least a city and county is very helpful to know when you are trying to find them in the Census records.
- Do they have family pictures they would be willing to let you borrow and copy. I have done this and to say thank you when I return the pictures, give them a flash drive with all the pictures I scanned from them and any other pictures from that family I may have collected. Be sure you identify all known people in the pictures!
- Is there a Family Bible? (The Holy Grail for Genealogists!) If so, it is important to make photocopies of the family records pages AND the title page that shows the date of publication.
- Oral History – Is there an older living family member who likes to talk? If so, get thee to them pronto with tape or video recorder in hand! Though stories may not be 100% accurate, they can provide leads
- Pets – Some folks enjoy knowing about the critters too!
Once you have dates and places you can start to request vital records such as Marriage Licenses, Divorce Decrees, Birth Certificates and Death Certificates. These often will provide additional family information or at least verification of information you collected.
The County and State Seat as well as Government Archives will provide vital records such as birth, marriage and death. Dates that these are on file vary with each court house and archive.
With the Internet it is much easier to locate this information than years ago! What I spent looking for on microfilm for hours years ago can now be found in minutes at sites such as Ancestry.com. I am partial to this site and keep my working tree there. It is a great way to collect your information because they also will lead you to others that might be researching that same person or to other vital records that they have in their archives. Blinking Green Leaves mean leads and an adrenalin rush for the avid genealogist!
The US Census has a 72 year privacy clause. In 2012 the 1940 one will be released. The census is taken every 10 years. The records of 1790 through 1840 have only the head of household listed along with numbers of family members listed by age and sex. In 1850 they started to list all family members and people living in the household as well as occupations. 1880 started to provide relationships to the head of household. The 1890 Census is lost to time. Some pension records for 1890 survived. 1900 and 1910 are helpful in that they list number of years married and the number of children born and number of children living. The census records are online at Ancestry.com.
If the family was affiliated with a church you can try to access those records for Baptism, Marriage and Burials. Sometimes these will shed light on additional family relationships. Church and cemetery records are individual sources that again vary on the years they have records from. Depending on the cemetery, they too can provide helpful information. Some kept wonderful records, others you may be lucky if they can point you to where the grave is! Military and pension records are also a good source for information.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to document where you get your information. I started as a teen and had to backtrack over the years to do this. It is important to do this not only so you know where you got it, but if you or any of your descendants ever want to apply for membership in lineage related societies you are required to submit certified copies of your information. Certified copies of public records such as birth, marriage & death certificates are required. I have my hard copy records of Family Group Sheets in 3 ring binders and my research in file drawers. You will most likely want to have at least two binders to get started, one for maternal lines and another for the paternal ones. I won’t scare you right now and tell you how many binders I have!
Some people record only their direct lines and just statistics. I for one record as many family members as I can find, listing all the siblings and their families as well. Through those other lines I have sometimes found wonderful information on a common direct ancestor. I also research the areas they lived, news of the time, etc. I am interested in bringing the names and dates that I have recorded to life, to understand a little of what it was like when they lived.
Start with you, write down the vital statistics from your life, then your parents, grandparents and so on. Talk to any relatives that you can, especially older family members. You will learn much about your heritage, some good, some bad, we all have skeletons in the closet somewhere in our tree. But it is your story, and the story of your family, just waiting to be told!