One of today’s exciting hobbies (more are getting into it professionally) is the search for family history, starting with one’s own. With the presence of the Internet and the various databases all over the world, genealogy (as it is popularly called) can be a fulfilling and fascinating pastime.
Aside from knowing your family’s history, you might discover along the way some unknown facts or some surprising turns of past events. These and more are fodder to countless nights of discussions with your relatives.
The ultimate goal, then, is to complete the construction of one’s family tree, accurate in details and full of these interesting pieces of family history.
Sometimes, particularly for the beginner, the whole exercise can be intimidating.
Fortunately, most newcomers start out by wanting to work on their own family trees first. This is good since that would introduce them to the basics.
Where to begin
Start with yourself, your spouse, your children, and your grandchildren, if any. What is initially needed are dates and places of birth, followed by information on marriage and death, if applicable. Individual data for each one (profession, personal statistics, etc.) can be added later.
After you have recorded these, do the same for your parents, brothers and sisters. Include the spouses and children of your siblings. Afterwards, fill in the data of your grandparents’ families – including their children, children’s spouses, and other descendants.
For your sources of information, you have your own household or that of your relatives, your own knowledge of events, the declarations from other family members, and probably past research done by other people about your family. Of course, this is just the start of the adventure of discovering your roots, because you have to piece all of these together in the end.
All the information you gathered needs support documents. But by writing it all down (and probably starting to do a rough family tree), you will already see the missing parts or conflicting information.
Usually this happens within the family’s first four generations or thereabouts. There might be blanks on certain births or marriages, or maybe even unreported deaths.
Some of your older living relatives can help.
The attic, the trunks, the cabinets
Your own house (or a relative’s house) is a marvelous source of information, if you know where to look. Diaries, for instance, can confirm fuzzy dates or conflicting accounts of events, and letters can be consulted by their postmarks.
The most common artifacts of the past, old yearbooks and photo albums, can be a gold mine. (Look at the back for possible written dates.) But one should not discount other loose documents such as wills, titles, deeds, citations and commendations, certificates from school or job, etc. Each item may have such a long, detailed story connected with it.
Other things such as old clothes and jewelry items may substantiate some connections to the events their owners may have gone through. Sometimes, they could be considered like a real-life scrapbook with real-life items.
Next in line would be a formal oral history with your relatives. Be respectful, first and foremost. Ask open-ended questions, so the process would be free-flowing.
The older members of your family often have information about people who are long gone. You might be surprised sometimes how they can all tie up the pieces of history together.
Your own family tree
After you have gathered your data, arrange it accordingly. The first person to go on the chart would be you and your family. Then, arrange that of your siblings and their families, and your parents’ family next. Each of the following next generation would be listed after that. Each person has spaces under his entry for date and place of birth, marriage, and death.
You may want to utilize family group records available around at local genealogy shops and bookstores. There are also genealogy software programs available from your local libraries and from the Internet. Study each one as much as you can and ask around before making any purchase. The program should be able to address your requirements.
In your search for your family history, you will meet many of your ancestors who had led lives more interesting than those in the movies. You will get to know great many dates and events that were landmarks in your family’s history. Getting to know all these are reasons enough for you to do the whole enterprise.