Introduction to Genealogy
Genealogy is the hobby, the art and the science of exploring your family history, finding out who your ancestors were and where your family came from. The Internet has made genealogy research faster and easier by providing many historical resources online, allowing many of us to quickly and easily find information about our ancestors. To trace
your ancestry and family history, follow the advice below and enjoy the increasingly popular hobby of genealogy.
Before you begin your family history research, it is a good idea to focus on what you want to achieve. Do you wish to pursue the paternal (male) line with its continuity of surname, or the maternal (female) line, or perhaps even verify a family legend? You may find that the decision is made for you, if the research proves difficult. If, however, you decide to pursue more than one line, be sure to keep your research organized and file the results separately to avoid confusion.
Family History Begins at Home
The golden rule in family history research is to try to work backwards from what you already know. As such, family history truly does begin at home and you may be surprised at how much you already know or have access to within your own extended family. It is not necessary to have a lot of detail to start, but it makes sense to log whatever information is readily available and to seek out further details from relatives.
Begin by recording your own details - date and place of birth, marriage, spouse, children - then the details of your parents, grandparents and so on as you recall them.
Next Step: Your Relatives
Information from relatives can increase your knowledge of the family, but a patient and tactful approach is required. Family anecdotes can become distorted with the passage of time, but should still be noted for later verification. Be sure to interview your relatives, especially the older ones, as they may have information about your ancestors that you won't find in any database. Write everything down for future reference. Getting in touch with your relatives may often prove to be a rewarding and enriching experience.
How successful you are in researching your family history is determined by a number of factors, many of which are beyond your control. Your success can depend on the survival of records, how common your surname was, your family's social status and level of literacy, and the possibility of transcription errors. However, success can also depend on your own tenacity, keeping an open mind and not taking anything for granted, being methodical, approaching a problem from more than one angle and corroborating any evidence you may find. In spite of the occasional "brick wall", you may find that the genealogy hunt itself is almost as exciting as the thrill of discovery.
Documents and Photographs
Most families possess old documents or photographs, which can be of use to the family historian. Examples of documents you might find, which can significantly aid your research, are:
Birth, marriage and death certificates, obituaries, family bible, school certificates, university/school graduation certificates and awards, military service records, business papers, immigration papers, travel documents, diaries, address books, birthday books, letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings and memoirs.
Go through old family photographs and see how many people you recognize. Show the photos to older relatives to help jog their memory. Try to ask them to identify as many faces as possible, so that this information is preserved.
Any information that can be gathered from within the family can help establish a foundation on which to build your family history.
Read Up on Family History, Join a Society
Libraries and bookshops stock a range of material on family history. You may want to consider joining a family history society in your area. For a small annual fee you will receive all the benefits of membership (magazine, research facilities, well-stocked libraries, research services, ready advice) and meet like-minded individuals. Consider also joining a society in the area in which you are conducting research. You can also turn to the Internet for an active genealogy community. You can find forums in which to post questions, read answers, hear about others' successes and failures, and find additional resources.
The family tree is the nucleus of any family history research and putting it together is often an exciting journey that can play out like a detective story. Maintaining the family tree information that you accumulate on paper notes may quickly get out of hand, so use genealogy software to help you keep track of the various individuals in your family tree and the relationships between them. Family Tree Builder
is a good choice for this. It's free, supports multiple languages, offers a very easy interface to enter and review data, and allows you to organize your entire photo collection according to the relatives pictured.
The Internet offers a wealth of genealogy data, but this information is scattered and difficult to find. To save time, use the dedicated genealogy search engine at MyHeritage.com Research
. It can help you get results from the important genealogy databases on the Internet automatically, for the surnames and individuals that you are researching.
Once you have put together your family tree, collected some interesting old photos of your family and gathered family legends, stories and anecdotes, don't keep this treasure to yourself! Post it on the Internet for your family and friends to enjoy. They will be able to contribute more to your research and perhaps help you fill in missing information. Distant relatives can also find you this way so that long-lost cousins can reunite as a result of your efforts. Use MyHeritage.com Family Pages
to create a family site and share your family tree and family history gems, including photos, documents, stories and more. Invite your relatives to become members in your site and open some areas in your site for access to guests from the Internet. Share and enjoy!