When a couple begins a life together, they may choose to have children, purchase a house, and even plant a new tree on their property. With proper nurturing and care, the tree's roots, like those of the new family, will grow deep and strong. While establishing new roots is important, so is exploring a family's preexisting ones. That's because family plays a crucial role when it comes to a person's beliefs, personality, and overall sense of identity. While one's immediate family often has the greatest influence, ancestors also play an important, yet indirect role. To best understand how their ancestors laid the framework for their current lives, people may consider mapping out their family tree. A family tree identifies present and past relatives and illustrates how they relate to one another; however, it also provides a unique opportunity to explore who they were, where they came from, and their successes and failures. A better understanding of one's heritage is also a way to establish a sense of pride and to give insight on things that may be passed on genetically, such as health problems.
When tracing a family tree, it is important to research one person, couple, or branch of the family at a time to avoid confusion or risk missing valuable information. Once it is decided who to focus on, there are several ways to start the process. Some may begin by reviewing items that are already in their possession. These are often items that have been passed down following a death or given as a gift. These items may include old family albums with pictures that have names, dates, and other information written on the back. Diaries, jewelry with inscriptions, family bibles, and old letters and cards are all sources of information that one might already have stored away. Any gathered information should be written down and stored in a designated folder or entered into one's computer for safekeeping. Relatives are also a fountain of information, particularly older generations such as grandparents or great-aunts and -uncles, as they will likely have memories that reach further than those of one's parents. Share with them the desire to research family history, and if possible, visit them to help sort through records and heirlooms. Another important step is to conduct interviews with as many family members as possible, writing down their memories regardless of how small a detail may initially seem. When interviewing family, ask for specifics such as dates and whether information was obtained through first-hand experience.
To be completely thorough, one should also visit places where family members lived or where major events may have taken place. Physically visiting a location can turn up information from the local courthouse, churches, or cemeteries. Check old newspapers for information that might make mention of the relatives who are being researched. Also search for records such as marriage certificates, wills, land deeds, and more. State archives, the genealogy page of the Census Bureau, and the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation are just a few the places where information may be obtained. Some of this information can be found online, while other data must be obtained in person. There are also a number of other online databases that are available, some of which require a fee. Local genealogical societies are yet another place to conduct research, as they offer educational courses and even research trips that can help interested parties learn how to better trace their family trees.
Tracing Your Family Tree