Start Your Family Tree

Family research and genealogy can become very complex, but one thing is certain: to begin your research the only thing you really need is an active interest.

Family research usually begins with your living, breathing family members. In fact, researching your family is an excellent tool to help you reconnect with family members you rarely see. The first step in family research is to call, write or email and start asking questions.

Human beings naturally see themselves as family and tribe members. We love nothing more than to be asked about ourselves: who we are, what we do, where we have been.

Genealogy is suitable for any personality type. If you are organized person, go ahead and gather notebooks, tape recorders, and note cards. Create a file in your computer to store information and sharpen all your pencils. As an organized individual you know that this is a big project and you are going to want to know where to find all your materials as the research grows.

If you are more spontaneous, just pick up the phone, start chatting and jot notes on anything you can find. You know that in the end this project is going to grow and grow and you can create organizational categories as you go.

Whichever type you are, the trick is to get started as soon as possible.

How To Conduct Your First Interviews

It's going to be a lot more fun getting started if you conduct your first interviews in person or over the phone. Follow the regular rules of conduct with your family members and conversations about your family tree will be fun.

  • Always block time: Set up a time to come visit. If you are calling on the phone always ask, "Is this a good time?"
  • Don't jump in straight away asking about family ancestors. First ask how they are doing and get caught up on their life.
  • If calling, make sure you have a good phone connection. Especially with the elderly, hearing can be an issue. You want to make sure you can hear everything they say, and they need to understand what you are calling about.
  • When going for a visit, bring some treats (unless you are calling on a family member who loves to cook and entertain).

Things to Remember To Ask

It is easy for conversations to ramble. Especially when someone is thinking about the past they will tend to get off track and you could easily never get to the point! It is a very good idea to start the conversation with some prepared notes and questions.

If your family member gets off track do take notes of what they are saying... because they could easily go in an exciting direction you never imagined. But use your outlines to come back to the question at hand until you get satisfactory answers.

Here are some things to remember:

  • Ask for spellings. It is not uncommon for names to change spellings over generations, and even in a person's lifetime.
  • Get specific locations. Census logs and court records for specific counties are a gold mine to help you confirm information that you get word-of-mouth.
  • Ask for dates. Dates are often harder than locations to remember, but a general date will give you a place to start. Some people will surprise you and be able to remember exact dates for every year of their life!!!

Above all, have fun. Genealogy and family research can be very exciting. This is your chance to learn who you are and where you come from, and to reconnect with family members across the country. Genealogy can become a lifelong pursuit, let it be fun from the very beginning.

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