Find My Family History

Where can I find my family history? Ever wonder if you're truly descended from royalty or if your family really helped clean up the Wild Wild West? Tracing your family tree can be easy with these tips!

Everyone's got that favorite family story of how your great-great-grandfather hacked his way through the wilderness to create a home for himself or how your great-grandmother was one of the first independent women and started a stir locally with her wild ideas - but how do you track these stories back and find out the real story? With these helpful tips, you can recreate your family tree and give a wonderful legacy to your children and their children!

Genealogy, or the study of your family history, has been a popular hobby for decades and in some cases, centuries. Many people pride themselves in being able to trace back their family name to some famous ancestor or place that still holds a dear place in their hearts. But where to start?

The best and easiest place is your own relatives. Many budding genealogists find that sitting down with their eldest family member and a tape recorder can uncover realms of information for the future. Many people don't need much encouragement to discuss the past and their family's part in it; and an oral history often provides valuable insight into the past views and concerns of the previous generations. Many books have been published which only contain oral histories of certain events and historical happenings; and your eldest relative can be a treasure trove of vital statistics and stories as to your past. The only caveat to this is that time often distills and distorts memories, so be sure to document and backcheck any information from your family just to make sure that it was your great-great-uncle and not your great-aunt by accident.

The next best thing is usually the family Bible. Many older families record every birth and date in these old tomes; written carefully in the first few pages or in the back, if space permits. Often you can view centuries of history in the scribbled and worn inkstains of these valuable resources, seeing how the penmanship changes from owner to owner and from decade to decade as this momento of history is passed on through the family. Again, though, you will have to check the dates and names to see that there has been no deviation or changes; since oftentimes divorces and sudden deaths are often not recorded for the sake of the family reputation or because there simply was no proof of one's death.

Family heirlooms provide a valuable tip for the genealogy hunter - often rare and distinct sculptures or paintings have a history of their own, giving you a fresh line of research as you discover where they came from. That antique ivory elephant could be the missing link between your great-uncle's travels in Africa and his eventual landing in North America. Use these as eagerly as any ancient relic to trace back the family connection and you might find hidden treasures in your own cabinet.

After exhausting your local resources, your next step should be the Internet - easily accessible either through home, work, school or the local library. Many webpages exist for the sole purpose of linking up family members with each other and to exchange information. The caveat here is that you must be cautious as to verifying the actual connection between yourself and some poster over in England who claims to be your cousin, three times removed. While many postings are honest, you can always count on a few fakers among the crowd who might be out for more than just a little friendly exchange of information. One of the approaches encouraged by experienced hunters is to see if you're being searched for yourself - many times you can find requests for certain names and places that relate to your own family history. You might not be the only one searching for family members. In this case, it's advised that you contact them and verify their own information before offering your own; avoiding possible sticky situations where you end up on the wrong track or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous posters who seek to only pad their pockets by finding a "long-lost" relative.

The best place to end up would be the more official sites, such as the ones run by the Church of Latter-Day Saints or other major groups that pride themselves on keeping strict and correct genealogical records and make the information available to the public at no charge or a small fee for processing. While you can pay professional reseachers to find and track your family tree, many people enjoy doing the search on their own; only turning to these people when hitting a blank wall in their hunt.

Another choice you'll have to make quite early in your research is how you wish to proceed - on your mother's side or your father's? Your grandmother's or your grandfather's? While it's easy to imagine doing each and every branch on the tree, realize that within only two generations you can be following close to a hundred different people and their offspring; daunting even to the most experienced researcher. Most families tend to trace their ancestry through the male heirs, while some cultures only through the females. You'll have to decide early in your search where to draw the line as far as running off for second cousins and so forth.

Also, how far back do you want to proceed is a major factor. Do you only want to pursue your family's history in the United States or back to England? Back to the Civil War or to the War of The Roses, if you can? Back to Hungary before or after the Second World War? While resources often make your choice for you, you should also decide how far back you're going to attempt to trace. If your only intention is to verify if you are truly the lost King of Scotland like your Aunt Grace repeated over and over, you might be content with only tracing back that particular lead.

Many software packages exist now to provide the ease of recording and tracking your family tree; printing out the charts effortlessly and allowing you to link one member to the other with a few taps on the keyboard; a great advancement from the early days where you had realms of paper strewn across the room and long winding maps of family branches extending over the piano into the spare bedroom. Your nearby electronic store will carry many different products all aimed to help you record and even assist in tracking down lost relatives.

With the computer age encroaching into all areas of our lives, more and more public records are being made accessible online - saving you the time and postage of writing to distant places requesting travel records or birth certificates. For example, you can locate the immigration records of new arrivals at Halifax, Nova Scotia with a few clicks of the mouse; making it easier to find and track your family if you know they landed at that location. Many other large immigration ports are now available online for the eager genealogist. Again, though - a great deal of doublechecking is advised to make sure that your sources are accurate.

And while you may not be truly the last surviving member of the Romanov Royal Family or the lost heir of the King of Siam, tracing your family history can provide to be a fun and interesting hobby for you and your own family as you find out who you really are and where your roots lie. Who knows, maybe you ARE the Lost King of Scotland? Why not do a little hunting and see?

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