How to Get Started Building a Family Tree

If you are new to genealogy or know someone that starting to gain interest, here are some steps to help you build a family tree with resources for finding information.

The very first step is to sit down and write out what you know. That gives you a place to start.

Write down your first two or three generations. It will be easier to work with because they are the closest and you usually know these people.

Many have never met their great grandparents. Or if you did you don’t remember because you were a baby.

Fill out a Family Tree Form

We provide a number of free family tree forms that can help you get started along with other genealogy research forms that can help you organize.  Download a few of them to get you started.  Our basic family tree form is a good form to start with – Family Tree Form

A great place to learn how to work on your tree is to go to YouTube and watch some videos.

There are magazines available you can get and books to read at your local library. There are also libraries online that you can access to look for information.

When I first started looking things up I printed out everything I could find. I have binders and binders full of information.

I go back all the time and go through them because you start to learn the family members from the years past and things start to make more sense. I have made notes and have put sticky pad papers all in them. I have questions written by certain things so when I go back I can decide if I need that part or not.

Ask Family Members to Join In

If you can, have family members write memories down and send them to you so you could add them to the tree.

This gives them a chance to help and feel like they are a part of the process.   Its a fairly simple request and while most of them won’t want to make genealogy a hobby, many of them will be happy to help by sharing their stories.  Those memories can help you learn and everyone can enjoy for years to come.

Never Assume Another Researcher is Correct

I have been working on a project all this week and had to completely delete the tree and start over. I followed someone else’s tree and I knew better, but I also assumed that if there was a William Sr. that William the 2nd would be his son. Boy was I wrong! William the 3rd was even out of place to me. So, I had to back up and start all over, making sure each piece of the puzzle fits the way it should before continuing on to the next piece.

Believe me this was not easy on this tree I was working on.This family and several of the people in the tree were in the news every single day for three generations or more. Take about good vs. evil! I guess we all have that someone in the tree that was way out there.

I have been so entangled with this family that I have not been able to find a stopping place. I think someone could fill a whole library full with just this one family’s history and life events.

When there is that much paperwork to go through it is very consuming. I know the family pretty well know and can work out all the details when I’m reading about them. But, the craziness just goes on and on.

The main takeaway here. Take your time and be careful

Especially if you run into a great deal of information and even more so if you get information from someone else’s tree. They may not have had access to everything available like we do now.

Some family trees don’t go very far.  There are many people online that are just there for a little while and then they are gone. They got what they wanted and may never come back to it.  Others do this full time, love it and find more details. We will fix things when we can.

Work Backwards and Go Slow 

Start with yourself and go to your parents and then to your grandparents.

Work on one generation at a time. Use the records you find to document every fact.

The most enriching part of this hobby is when you start it is to learn about your family. Find out about the real stories, the parts of their life that were important to them at the time. The things they did and where they did it at.

Ancestry has a series of YouTube videos that can teach you the basics of family research and how to use their website.  When working on Ancestry, one thing you can do is fix mistakes.

The transcriber may not have been able to read the information and had to make a good guess.  Other times, they are much more distant relative and you are in a better position to know the truth. If you really know the information is correct, you can fix it.

Using Paper Forms

While we all get use to digital forms, cloud servers and online databases, there is nothing wrong with using paper forms and keeping your own physical records.

I know it is much easier to keep things on line but I am learning the sometimes it is not always going to be there. There are things that can happen. I have always backed things up on an external drive but that is not always perfect either. I have lost three external hard drives in the past ten years. Things just happen and I can tell you I had to pay three thousand dollars to have that hard drive read to get the information back.

Another Little Tip

If you can’t find a record there are sometimes places in that town or county that you can find online. In some towns there are places you can visit to find information that hasn’t been transcribed and put on the web. I usually get as much as I can online first before I start driving.

Write Notes

I always write notes about everything I find. Write it all down. Even if you are not sure if it goes to your tree. Put a question mark out beside it and write down why you are unsure or what you are thinking so when you come back you can figure it out.

Message Boards and Help From Fellow Genealogy Enthusiasts

When it comes to genealogy, people are very willing to help. It is one of things I love about this hobby.  So don’t be afraid to ask.

FindAGrave and Ancestry have message boards where you can ask questions. There are other genealogy forums you can visit.  People with the same surname may have a ton of information they will share with you.

Facebook Groups

Join some Facebook groups on genealogy so you can watch and ask questions.

When I first started looking for my genealogy information I was not on Facebook. I don’t think Facebook was even around at the time.

I would go do a search on a search engine and just type in free data banks. I would go through as much as I possibly could. I did not even get on Ancestry for a long time.  Now, you can get a lot of information on Facebook groups and usually get questions answered quickly.

There are Countless Other Resources

You will not run out of paces to look up help information.  Whether its books, search, genealogy websites, cemeteries or even webinars, there are many sources of information.   Thanks to the internet and websites like Ancestry, this hobby has grown tremendously over the past twenty or thirty years.

So just dig in and start, start with your parents and grandparents and start building a foundation for your family tree!