With fast-paced tools and sites online, searching for ancestors and family members has never been easier. Sites such as ancestry.com, familysearch.org and ancestrydata.com allow you to find a family member with nothing more than a name and the click of a button. Yet, starting your family history research or even just moving along in the process can at times feel overwhelming. But don’t be intimidated! Tools and methods abound to help you get over the genealogical hump.
Here are 6 ways that have made ancestry research easier and workable for me:
- Start Small
In some families there is already a wealth of information about late relatives. Even if the data isn’t yet recorded online, many families have well-organized documents and histories at home. But if your situation is anything like mine, that may not be the case in your family. Although my maternal side already had a lot of documented history, my paternal line was basically at a stand still. I had some physical documents from my grandmother but they were scattered and not always verifiable. Even as close as one or two generations back basic documents such as birth and death certificates were missing. So I started small. The first thing I did was use names I was sure of and plugged them in online. This is a great place to start as some of the information you need may have been recorded online by someone outside of your immediate family. Sites like ancestrydata.com are great for simple, name-based searches. The Ancestry Data search, in particular is useful because it guides you to multiple resources and sites from one search.
- Record Relatives
You may have heard that you should ask living relatives what they know and gather their living memories as research. This can seem daunting when you think about recording all the information, taking accurate notes and perhaps working with older relatives. The way I made this easy was simply using the camera on my phone. I sat down with my Grandma, turned the video function on on my phone and just asked questions. I asked her about relatives, names, places, specific memories and personal information. I then transferred the file to my computer and can refer to it any time I am fact checking. If you are not sure of what information to gather, making a list in advance of what you need may be helpful.
- Photos and Letters
Try to find any existing physical photos and letters. My Father thought my Grandmother may have had a box with items like this but no one knew where it was. One day we searched her home and finally found the box. I call the box of information my “King Tut’s Tomb” because it contains photos and records we would otherwise not have. Even though the documentation was not all encompassing or comprehensive, dates on the photos and mentions of family in letters gave me key clues to move forward in my family tree. I even found out I had some incorrect information listed about family members in my current research.
You might be surprised to find out how many people connected to you through your family tree are already online. In my case, I just had to add a few ancestors to my family tree in key areas and then I was able to find a wealth of information further back from distant relatives who had already done the research. Many genealogy sites have networking functions and the ability to message other users. Even amateur genies are usually very excited to share information and work together.
- Enjoy the Process
Make sure during all this research you don’t forget about why you are doing family history in the first place and about how fun it can be! I was so excited the day I found out about my Irish and German heritage. I already knew about my overwhelming English heritage but the Irish history had always been only a family rumor and no one had any idea we had German roots! Finding out how Irish and German I was turned out to be really exciting and even made me think about my family and myself differently. Other fun things to research can be if you have any notable relations such as famous people or royalty. Relativefinder.org is a straightforward online tool that specifically searches for any notable or famous relatives you are connected with.
It can also be very interesting to find out if family members fought in any wars or went through Ellis Island. Finding out the fun things, discovering photos and letters and really getting to know the heart of your personal history is the satisfying part of genealogy research.
- Don’t Give Up
Personally, I am still stuck getting past one of my family lines just 4 generations back in my family tree. I haven’t been able to find this ancestor’s parents and other information to move along past him on his family line. This type of situation can be frustrating but don’t give up! Sometimes, moving to another line for a time or researching further information about family members you already know can give you the clues you need to complete a certain branch in your family tree. When this gets tiresome for me, sometimes I switch to my maternal side or another line that has more information and is easier to move along just to give myself a break and enable me to come back to the puzzling line with a fresh perspective.