Since so many of us here in the States have roots in other countries, we’re obsessed as a nation with tracing our family trees. It can be daunting, especially since so many of our older relatives have passed on, and we don’t have many ways to verify what we’re even looking for, not to mention whatever we might find. If you’re embarking on a quest to trace your family tree, I have some tips that will send you on your way prepared to learn all you can!
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When was the last time you had tea with your grandmother or great-aunt Jenny? Pay them a visit and ask them for stories, photos, and information. They’re a wealth of knowledge and history, and you know they’ll appreciate the attention!
Thumb through family photo albums and ask questions about the people, places, and background objects in the pictures. Sometimes an event, or a car, or a painting on a wall can have an amazing history, something that older generations take for granted, but you never knew.
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Keep notes of what you find, and objectively compare the different versions of the same stories. If great-aunt Jenny says the older man in that photo with the Packard is her father, then she’s probably right, even if your grandmother says he’s not a relative.
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We’ve all heard of Ancestry.com, a website that charges its members a fee to use their databases. But did you know that there’s an even better, more complete set of genealogy records kept by the Church of Latter Day Saints? Their entire collection is on the internet, free of charge, and their archives are available to the public in person, too. Check out the site once, at familysearch.org, and you’ll be hooked.
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After every conversation, write everything down in a notebook or in a Word document on your computer. Keep captions in ink with photos, or copies of photos, with the dates, names, and anything else relevant. Write everything down, because even though you think you’ll remember every detail, you won’t, especially once you get going.
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I can’t stress this enough — it’s incredibly important that you stay organized. Keep all of your photo copies, notes, and trinkets in one place, and keep them sorted in a way that makes sense to you. Most craft stores have binders or bins made specifically for family heritage projects, and you may want to use one of those.
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When you’re going back through the generations, it’s important to triple-check your facts so you’re sure the people you’re finding are who you think they are (your relatives!). If not, you’re bound to waste your time and energy. Hopefully, you have ancestors with unusual names!
Using these tips, and with the help of a set of older relations, we were able to track our family tree back to 1280 AD in what’s now the UK. I’m sure if you keep these ideas in mind, you can trace your heritage with success, too! Have you already traced your family tree? How far back were you able to go? Are you related to anyone famous? Please share!
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