Tracing your lineage is an intriguing activity that allows you to peer into your ancestors’ past. Discovering more about your relatives can help you understand your inherited features, personality traits, and values. It is a great way to feel closer and connected to those family members who are no longer a part of your everyday life and also those you never got the chance to meet. Plus, learning how to trace your family tree may allow you to uncover lost stories of the past. Would you like to plant the roots of your family tree? Get ready to dig around for information and do some detective work.
How to Trace Your Family Tree
How to Research Your Roots
- A great way to start piecing together your family tree is to write down what you know. Trace back your earliest memories. Do you remember your great grandfather telling stories of his father? Write down the details, even if you aren’t sure of their accuracy. You can fact-check with your living relatives and other resources later.
- Locate family photo albums, journals, and letters. These will be helpful in answering questions you have and will allow you to identify people you want to know more about.
- Next, call your relatives. Chances are, someone in your extended family has already begun recording their side of the family’s genealogy. Gather stories, names, birthdays, hometowns, and details about the marriages of your ancestors. Now is the perfect time to live out any dreams you’ve had of being a journalist, because asking questions to your siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles will help you collect stories and give you a peek into your lineage.
- Have you come across any veterans in your research? Request military service and pension records from the National Archives. These can help you learn more about your ancestors’ military ranks, medical histories, and immediate family members who inherited their pensions.
- Explore local resources relating to genealogy. For example, many towns, cities, and states have historical societies and genealogy clubs. Our friends in Tennessee might wish to join the Tennessee Genealogical Society. If your family lived in a particular area for a significant amount of time, you could visit that county’s historical society to learn more about them. In addition, be sure to ask about your local library‘s genealogy resources and online newspaper archives.
- Take advantage of online tools such as the Ellis Island Passenger Search, the U.S. Census, and online newspaper archives by looking up your ancestors’ names. Check with your local library before purchasing a subscription plan on newspaper archive sites, because libraries often have subscriptions to online databases that you can access. Always keep basic Internet safety rules in mind before making online purchases.
How to Format Your Family Tree
Now that you know how to trace your family tree and you have some information about who your relatives are, make a visual map of your family lineage and note any missing spots. Do some detective work to find the answers to lingering questions. For example, is there a little boy in an old family photo that you don’t recognize? Send the photo to your relatives, and ask them if they have any ideas.
How you choose to format your family tree is a personal decision. Many people use a flow chart format, which you can create in Microsoft Excel. However, there are other ways to create a digital family tree. Look up online tools designed specifically for mapping family lineage, or try out Google Drawings, a free online tool for creating diagrams and charts. If you prefer pen and paper, start by sketching out your family tree on a whiteboard, and later you can transfer your drawings to pen and paper. When you’ve finished, share the tree with your family members, especially those in younger generations, so that your family’s history is not lost with the passing of time.
Learning how to trace your family tree is a worthwhile activity. Even if you hit a few dead ends, you will likely be surprised at how far back you can trace your lineage. Perhaps you are related to a great figure in history, or even distantly related to your best friend! You’ll never know until you start the search.
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