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Creating a Family Tree

How I got started

I've always been the curious type of soul, and that extended to me wanting to know about my ancestors. My mom and step-dad raised me and the void of not having my birth father in my life left a craving to want to know my family.

Moving forward, I reconnected with my biological father at the age of 19, and after not seeing him for 13 years I still loved him very much. I asked him about his father, and his reply was "I don't know my dad because he died when I was a teenager." Again, this left a void in my life because I wanted to know my grandfather.

During the time I was reconnecting with my dad, I was also linking up with other brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. It was an exciting time for me. One thing that I realized was that there was not a family historian on the paternal or the maternal side. No family Bible or anything to help me out.

I had to start from scratch to build my family tree. I have been building my tree for about 15 years now, and it has been exhausting. I took several months and even years off during my quest. And now I know more about my relatives than anyone in my family. I have mentioned names my family had never heard of or had forgotten.

As of today, I've searched as far back as seven generations, and I've even done a DNA test to see which West African tribe I share ancestry with. Below I will tell my story by giving tips that I learned along the way using websites such as, African ancestry, and information gathered from relatives.

Searching for ancestors

Before I knew of any new age websites and search engines, I would just ask relatives, "who was your father/mother" and so on? I eventually built a library of families, with information on how they lived and some of their favorite foods. I would collect obituaries and pictures as I visited various family members.

If someone dies in the family that you didn't know so well; it would help to attend the funeral because there will be a lot of families there that can give you an enormous amount of information. Start connecting dots and lines until you have made a full circle. Family search, however, is more or less challenging depending on your race.

African-Americans can't go but so far because slavery and early ancestor births and deaths were not recorded. However, those of European descent have well-documented family history and know if they are Irish, Scottish, etc. For an African-American, it's not that easy. Our family link was cut off, not knowing where we come from. But thanks to technology we can now find out what region and tribe we come from.

Thus, every hint, story, or name is major in a family search. We are traveling back in time when doing a family tree and the ride can emotional. I cried tears of joy when I finally saw a picture of one of my grandparents.

Using family search sites

There are many family searching sites out there, and I am not endorsing any one, but feel free to use whatever one that's best for you. The most common one is Ancestry, and I've had great success with them. You are able to search:

  • Obituaries
  • Family trees
  • Census
  • Military records
  • Marriage/divorce records
  • Voting records
  • Slave scrolls
  • Social Security index

Much more can be done on their website. It will store the information in a family tree format, create a storyline, and give possible hints that may be helpful. Using a little information from family along with my search yielded outstanding results. My aunt told me about one uncle and just knowing his name revealed a whole family tree.

Every now and again I would run into a brick wall in my searches, but I found that when I take a break from my search I usually get better results. Spending hours every day searching the web becomes mentally draining, especially without results. I've even found graves of relatives long forgotten. If you don't have the patience to search the millions of archives, you can always hire an expert. I became my family historian but I still have searches to complete and relatives to find.

The majority of my family is from Alabama, but after years of researching, I found that my grandparents migrated from South Carolina as well as North Carolina. The interesting part about this discovery was that most of the slaves brought to America came by way of the Carolinas. Also, most African-Americans in the Carolinas are direct descendants of a country in West Africa called Sierra Leone. I did an African Ancestry DNA test in 2015, and it revealed that I share maternal ancestry with the Temne people in present-day Sierra Leone. I guess DNA don't lie. I haven't done the paternal test.

Searching the web

Searching the web

Search Tips

  • Talk to elders in the family
  • Visit local library
  • Visit local Court House
  • Search obituaries
  • Military records
  • Get a DNA test
  • Search last names
  • Search first names
  • Search nick names
  • Take some breaks
  • Check newspapers archives
  • Pray

You will be surprised at what praying does. I prayed for my ancestors to reveal themselves to me during my search and it happened. I even found cousins I never met before. I remember searching for an ancestor and low and behold I found a person with a matching relative and when I compared our family tree it revealed four more grandparents I didn't know. I was elated! Prayer does work. I now have more names of my ancestors than ever before.


It all starts and end with family. As you embark on your journey of finding your ancestors and building a family tree, please have patience. The thing to do is to get information from your closest relatives. Many families have issues and may be the father side did quite get along with the father's mother side. Family feuds will present a challenge during your search, but you have to be optimistic.

See if you can gather information from a more understanding relative. And don't forget to join the many websites that specialize in family genealogy searches. Search through all possible leads such as newspapers, military records, marriage license, census reports, social security index, etc.

Become your family historian and share your success stories with your children. I can now answer questions my children may have in the future. My years of family research have eliminated hard work for my kids and will give them an identity for years to come. That is a gift for all of my hard work. Good luck searching!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Akwasi Maru (author) from Macon, Georgia on November 25, 2016:


kbdressman from Clinton Township, Michigan on November 25, 2016:

It's a series of records that's being indexed by Familysearch users. You can set up a free Familysearch account to access what's currently available if you don't already have an account. Some projects are currently available to be searched and more will be released as they are finished!

Akwasi Maru (author) from Macon, Georgia on November 25, 2016:

I never tried that one kbdressman. I never heard of it to be honest. I will research it later today.

kbdressman from Clinton Township, Michigan on November 24, 2016:

Have you had any luck with the Freedman's Bureau records?