Beginning Your Genealogical Research
Rewards of Family History Research
It seems the further back I trace my ancestors, the further back I want to search, and websites like Ancestry.com provide a huge amount of information. Keeping tack of research, documents, and pictures is much simpler to do when you use a genealogy software program.
I have this idea that we can all leave a legacy behind in this world when we’re gone, such as precious memories for loved ones (family and friends), laughter, good deeds, pictures, material goods and so forth. I believe my ancestral tree is the legacy that I will leave for my children, grandchildren and well beyond. I am leaving behind something precious, which can be passed through the generations long after I have met my maker.
Search in Libraries
Benefits of Ancestral Search
Some of the benefits of tracing my ancestors to date include:
- Learning about your ancestors, where they came from, wars they fought, their occupations and so on.
- Meeting distant relatives that I didn't even know existed.
- Getting an idea of medical problems that run in the family, which primarily comes from reading death certificates.
The health history is very important as there is DNA testing available for some diseases, particularly breast, ovarian and colon cancer, so if you see that a lot of family members died from these diseases you may want to get the blood test which sometimes insurance will pay.
I like to understand the type of lives my ancestors led, along with learning a great deal about their beliefs. One benefit is the many new things I have learned about American history, which I somehow wasn't taught in school.
Places to Search for Ancestors
It is not difficult to get started:
- Begin asking questions to anyone in your family that is older than you. You will sometimes be amazed at what you will learn.
- Copy all available birth, marriage, christening, deed and death records that are available to you. You don't have to have the originals, but a copy is acceptable.
- You can find a lot of information on the internet with Ancestry being one of the best known sites.You can pay for the service in your home, and almost all libraries have it for free.
- The Mormon Church has a huge volume of information as well.
- You can find microfilm at churches in you area and at many libraries. It just takes a phone call.
- If you don't have a computer program, then you can start with forms that are found on the Internet. You will be surprised how fast you can fill a file drawer, and some office supplies are also helpful. You can also use large envelopes to store your documents.
- You will want to check census records when you get to that time frame. The 1940 Federal Census has been released.
- NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) is the place to contact or visit for military records. Some military records, particularly pension files, have a wealth of information in addition to the military history. I found my great grandfather's hand written documents from the civil war. And, yes, they were written using cursive.
- Searching cemeteries can also give you valuable information. If you know the county of death, check the courthouse for death records, probate records and wills. Family information in wills is usually accurate and an excellent source to aid your search.
- Many counties have local genealogy societies and often have large data bases of records for that area. Contact the society and for a nominal fee they will copy records for you.
Ways to Organize Your Material
To be successful at keeping track of the ever-increasing volume of information it is almost imperative to have a good genealogy software program or a well organized book of charts. Previously, people used index cards, folders, notebooks, etc, but while they work well for storage in particular, you can’t beat having a good program that organizes everything.
I've found that all of the major programs are good, and you can download a trial version of any of them to try out their various functions. It really comes down to whatever suits your personal preference.
How I organize my genealogy
1876 Home Built by my Grandfather
Use Good Software Programs for Organization
- Family Tree Maker 2017 – Family tree maker is the number1 selling software and it has made several upgrades in this new version. It has enhanced integration with Ancestry.com and many other features. I just bought this one to upgrade from my 2010 version, so I am still learning about the new upgrades. One unique feature I found is you can start with your mother and do a maternal GED file. As anyone who does genealogy research knows, the men are much easier to track than the women. This program has the capacity to store picture, video, audio and more, as do the other newer programs
- Roots Magic software is recommended by Heritage Quest Magazine. It has extensive family history reports, and you can store photos, sound bytes and video clips easily. As with the other programs, it has full GEDCOM support to make sharing data with others easy. You can create shareable CD’s of your data to share with family
- Legacy Family Tree Software – This is another popular program it contains a name list with an advanced editing system. It also allows comprehensive import from other software, and it has a split screen feature that allows you to view two trees at once which is very unique. It's other features very similar to the last two programs I described.
Family Atlas Genealogy Mapping Software – This is a new, different type of program that is becoming very popular. This program allows you to map out exactly where your ancestors lived by importing data directly from your genealogy software. You can add text and pictures to maps. It has a lot of other useful features.
Hopefully, if you are interested in your family history you will explore these products or other new ones, and try a free download. You’ll quickly learn that you can easily begin recording as these programs are not difficult. After I bought my first program, I took the family Bible my grandfather had kept and filled in numerous details, which started me down the path of research. It has been a wonderful adventure for me.
Aids to Enhance your Knowledge
Understanding the United States Census from 1790-1940 will give you a wealth of information, and each census from 1850 forward asks for a little bit of different information. Each one has it's own unique features. Women were not listed until 1850.
Attend seminars in your area, or take courses on line to increase your understanding. That will definitely help you be more productive when tracing you ancestral tree. Tracing one of my lines back to Ralph Smith, one of the early arrivals to the Plymouth Colony, was one of my first achievements.
The Family Tree Form is another simple written form to see just which facts are important. There are pedigree charts and numerous other forms to help you sort out each family. It is important to copy documents that prove what you enter, especially if you are interested in joining one of the numerous genealogy societies, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution.
If you have one of the three software programs I discussed, please click below.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Pamela Oglesby