Building your Tree
To build your family tree you need information, so in starting your search “there is no place like home!” Collect all information that your family and extended family has on your family history. Gather up names, dates, and places and ask family members about letters; scrapbooks; photographs; religious cards and books; certificates of accomplishments; land deeds; birth, marriage, death, and immigration records; occasion books (e.g. baby books); memorials, wills, and obituaries. Document family heirlooms as these special items add richness and life to your family story! Make sure you photograph or photocopy all items and create a note for each item.
Family stories and other personal information are terrific resources on family experience, lore, traditions, and culture. Over time some of these stories may have lost or gained content, but most family stories do have elements of truth to them. These stories contextualize your family, and make your genealogy more than a just an attractive diagram or family book. These stories offer a vibrant understanding of your family history.
When collecting family information, plan the “interview” out and write down key questions to ask family members. Include “open ended questions” to bring out rich detail. Record the interview and have someone else take notes on the emotional experience of the speaker and listeners. If you don’t have a recording device get a couple of family members to write down the responses to questions. Even if you are using an electronic recorder, it is still a good idea to have a note taker. Type the information up as soon as possible after the interview so that points are not left out and the experience itself can be recorded with clarity. Besides having interviews with family members, historical societies, heritage centers, city halls, court houses, archives, and the Internet may have information on your ancestors.
Use a genealogy software program to enter and store data and print out family trees, reports, and other information. If you don’t have a genealogy program, there are free forms on the Internet you can use to write or type in information and create family trees. See the links at the end of the blog for free forms and genealogy software.
How you organize and record the information you find is the key to yours, and future generations, understanding and accessing the information. Keep and maintain hard copies of all documents and store them in a secure place. You can organize your documents, for example, by surname, in labeled binders, folders, file boxes or file cabinets. For easy access, organize electronic files in a similar way as the hard copies. Obtain professional advice on the best way to store original and historical documents and family heirlooms.
Make a table of contents for each file/folder and list sources. You may want to break the table of contents down by each person and what documents and sources you have for the person. List all the sources information even if you don’t have a document. For example the source of information may have been a library book. Some genealogy programs may let you print out a source list which makes process faster and easy to update.
Keep a “map” of all your documents by collecting all the table of contents into one place and include other information that needs to be logged, such as correspondence and the location of all documents and resources. A research record can be used to log what you have researched, the results of the search, and what still needs to be done or documented. Share this map with your family members and as much as possible include them in the research process. Make this a fun filled family activity!
Free Genealogy Organizing Tools
Below are links to sources of free forms and software to help you organize your family information. Keep in mind that paid versions may have more “bells and whistles” then free versions, but these are great starting points!
Genealogy spread sheets/logs
Family Tree Templates
Designing your family tree
Family Tree Builder software
To speak with one of our professional genealogists and obtain help to build a family tree contact us.