Geneology Tips: Tracing Your Family History

Trace your family's historical information as hobby that by following these beginning steps: write down what you know, interview family members, and check records.

One of the most popular hobbies in America today is genealogy. Discovering your family history is a pleasurable pastime, and with the explosion in resources available, especially the Internet, you can successfully uncover several generations of ancestors. But before you go out and invest in a software program, or start poring over databases on your computer screen in the middle of the night, try some simple first steps that will cost you nothing but time.

The first step on your journey into your family's past is to write down information you already know. Don't worry yet about documentation or sources. Using a simple family tree form (known as a Pedigree Chart to genealogists) makes this step easier, but you can just write it on a plain sheet of paper if you'd like. (There are free downloadable Pedigree Charts available on the Internet.) Start with yourself. Then list the names of your parents, your grandparents, etc. If you have them, record the dates and places of births, deaths, and marriages as well. There now, that wasn't so painful, was it? You have just completed the first step down the path of your family's history. You are now ready to move on.

In order to find out more information regarding your ancestry, you need to find out what knowledge your family members possess. To do this, you must ask them. This will involve your natural curiosity, as well as some basic interviewing techniques. Don't let the word interview frighten you. There is no job at stake, and no one will be judging your performance. But your goal is to find out as much information as possible, and knowing how to do this can be helpful. Here are some tips to help you find out the facts and stories you know are out there just waiting to be uncovered.

1. Ask the person you wish to interview if they want to talk about the family history. Though the majority of family members will most likely be delighted to speak with you, there may be a few relatives who will be uncooperative or downright hostile. By their nature, family stories are quite personal, and not everyone wishes to share them. Respect that.

2. Start with a question or subject that will get a complete response, such as a story that you've heard the person relate before.

3. Avoid general questions, like "Tell me about your school years."

4. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

5. Have an idea what direction you would like to go in your questioning, but don't be dismayed if the person you are interviewing heads down another road. You might get some details you hadn't anticipated.

6. Using props like photographs and scrapbooks can help to stimulate a response to your questions.

7. Take notes, or preferably, tape record your interviews.

8. Soon after your interviews, write a note of thanks to those whom you interviewed.

The interviewing phase is a step that you shouldn't delay for too long. We don't like to think about it, but none of us is getting any younger. Talk to your older relatives while they can still share their knowledge with you.

Now that you have written down what you already know, and have started interviewing family members regarding what they know, it is time to progress to another phase of family history research. Again, this is a step you can do without having to leave your own home!

Take a look around your house (or your parents' or grandparents' if you need to), and see what family records may be available. These records can be treasure troves of information for the family history researcher. The first place most people think to look is at the family Bible, which has been a traditional place for families to record births, deaths, and marriages. You may also find obituaries and newspaper clippings tucked into the pages. Some of the other types of records you may find include:

1. Birth Records. It is unlikely that you will find a birth certificate for anyone born before 1920. Other potential sources of birth information include baptismal records, school records, letters, diaries, birth announcements, and baby books.

2. Marriage Records. Marriage licenses or certificates are frequently found in a family's records. They will at least record the names of the couple being married. However, many of them record birth places and parents' names as well. Other sources for marriage information include newspaper announcements and family Bible records.

3. Death Records. Death certificates are often located with the family papers. These generally have the information regarding the date and place of death, as well as the deceased's parents' names. You may also find death information in newspaper obituaries, legal notices, letters, and again, the family Bible.

4. Other Sources. There are numerous other sources of pertinent family history information you might find at home. Immigrants to this nation often received naturalization certificates. Passports, military discharge papers, photographs, land records, business transactions, legal records, and wills are all potential sources of the information you need to unravel the mysteries of your family's history.

Discovering your family's history is a wonderful pastime, but it shouldn't seem like a daunting task. Once you record what you and your family already know, and uncover records that may be sitting under your nose at home, you will be well on your way to a lifetime of celebrating your family's past, enjoying its present, and recording it for the future.

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