Want to know how to do a family tree?
Learn how to do a family tree, search for your ancestors and more
Since the original broadcast of Alex Haley’s Roots in 1977, researching the family genealogy has been a wildly popular pastime. Some 11.2 million people in English-speaking countries have learned how to do a family tree at one time or another since then, according to Genealogyintime.com, with the number still growing at a modest pace.
In fact, genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, according to ABC News, and the second most visited category of websites.
If you’re one of these enthusiasts, you probably have several reasons for your ancestry search. People study their family history to …
- Find out if family stories are true
- Find out if they’re related to someone famous
- Trace land ownership or family inheritances
- Find birth parents
- Learn more about a relative
- Preserve family culture after emigration
- Find and reconnect with living relatives
This is just the tip of the iceberg. And the easiest way to get started is to ask questions of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, even great-grandparents if possible. Write down everything anyone knows – names, dates, locations, events.
From there, turn to the clues that you have and begin your family tree search by finding official documentation of each individual. This could be in:
- Telephone books
- Birth records
- Death records and obituaries
- Real estate transactions
- Probate records (wills)
- Migration records
- Church documents
- Military records
- High school and college yearbooks
- Ships’ passenger manifests
In order to access these records from all over the country – or the world – you’ll find you need the Internet. There are many subscription ancestry websites that can help, the largest being Ancestry.com. There are also free websites, such as FamilySearch.org, though not surprisingly, they’re not as extensive.
And then there are some records that still aren’t available on the Internet, and you’ll have to either travel to where they’re stored, or communicate with the person who maintains those records.
You’ll be asked to pay a fee for having copies made, and sometimes a donation to the historical society or whoever has the records will get you greater cooperation, but it’s still cheaper than long-distance travel.
How do you make a family tree? Organize, organize, organize
If you do this right, there’s going to be a lot of data. Acres of it. Consider that you have 16 pairs of great-great-great-grandparents. If each pair had three children, who in turn had three children, who in turn had three children, down to your generation, there will be 365 relatives from each pair – which, multiplied by 16, means your extended family tree could have 5,840 potential people in it!
That’s why many people start by limiting their search to one branch of the family, say, father’s side. Take it slowly and keep meticulous records, recording the source of every fact you gather. This is important because you absolutely will run into conflicting information as you go forward, and you’ll want to be able to double-check your sources.
Experts suggest that you start with the branches of your family tree where it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get the information you need. Running into a roadblock early on can be extremely frustrating.
Also, this means you’ll be able to start identifying any unknown relatives that are alive, such as a first cousin once removed, or a second cousin. You can get to great-great-grandparents later, when you have more experience with the search.
You should also keep all your records and documents in one place. Most people keep their records online or on their computer. You can even scan paper documents and keep them together with electronic records. There are many software programs, either free or available to buy, that help you organize all this material.
Compiling a family tree will involve difficulties
As any experienced researcher will tell you, genealogy is awash with hitches, problems, and brick walls. Be prepared to consider many varied spellings of a last name, and learn to do "wildcard" searches that cover many possible spellings.
Also, tracing the women in your family tree will always be harder than tracking down the men because they changed their names when they got married. Then again, men have been known to suddenly start using their middle names instead of first names, so always cross-check records by both names.
Another problem you’ll run into is when a child died young, and the child’s name was used again for a later child – quite common in eras when large families and early child mortality prevailed.
You might find birth and death dates that vary in different records for the same person. Then there’s the most common problem of all – a dead end.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to ask the many genealogy websites questions while you’re learning how to do a family tree. But whatever your genealogical problem, hundreds of thousands of researchers have gone before you and discovered solutions. And the genealogical Experts at JustAnswer.com are always available to suggest a new line of research, locate a record, or untangle a mystery for you. You get fast answers, convenience, and reliable expertise – all in one place.