Starting My Family Tree

Are you a beginner to genealogy?   Here are the steps to building a strong foundation in researching a family tree.

The task of starting a family tree can look daunting at first glance. There’s so many ancestors we want to get to know, so many facts to be found. Where should one start?

Start with what you know.

Who is the one ancestor that you know the most about?  YOURSELF, of course. Start with the important dates and life events for yourself. Then you can move on to your parents and siblings and each generation after that.  Beginning with you builds the foundation and beginning of your methods.  Note all of your genealogical facts first.  Enter your birth date and location along with other dates and locations.  Move on to your siblings, parents and you have a great beginning!

It won’t be long before you’re looking further into your family history.  Look at old photographs, documents, letters, and family heirlooms. They are a treasury of family history and it can be surprising at how much information these types of things hold.  Of course you’ll want to look at records online and from other sources but don’t overlook your old family heirlooms.  These relics often contain details, faces and information that you won’t find anywhere else!

Talk to your family members

Every family member has a story and different memories. Plan a get together and ask everyone to bring some old photos. Listen and document the stories so you can later put facts to the stories.

To be even more organized, come prepared with a list of questions to ask family members. Or you can have each family member fill out a questionnaire and share their answers with everyone. If you don’t know what to ask, go online. There are plenty of samples on the Internet of questions to ask family members.

Family tree forms

Speaking of Internet resources, there are plenty of forms to be found on the Internet that can help you document and keep track of your family research. Geneosity is a great place to start.

Try documenting your family tree on a pedigree chart, also known as a family tree chart. It is the most known and basic way to track your family tree.  Here is a free copy of a basic Four Generation Pedigree Chart that will help get you started.

Put your family tree online

The most common way of keeping track of your family tree these days is by keeping track of it online. Lucky for us, there are plenty of choices when it comes to family tree web sites.

The most well known family tree website is Ancestry, but there are others out there.  Choose the one that best suits your needs. You can build a family tree, search for ancestors, and make connections with people who share common ancestors.

Searching online records

The Internet can be your best friend when it comes to doing genealogy research.  Remember this this is NOT a once-and-done task. New databases of old documents and records are going digital every day!

You can find everything from birth records, death records, census records, city telephone directories, old newspapers, and high school yearbooks.  This is just the beginning.  Here is a list of wonderful and free resources that you can search:

Family Search has access to the largest collections of genealogical information in the world and you can access much of it for free.

Find A Grave has over 180 Million listings of graves from all over the world.

U.S. National Archives is home to scores of military records and historical documents with many free resources.

U.S. Genweb contains a vast amount of local history and genealogical information organized by state and county.

Ellis Island Foundation provides records on immigration, arrivals, ship manifests and more.

This list is a good start in terms of free resources.  Some of these will require you to register for a free account but they won’t charge anything unless you want to have access to some of their premium resources for a flat fee or a small monthly cost.


DNA tests have become very popular and are a great compliment to your family tree. The company compares your DNA to others in their database and comes up with matches based on shared DNA. The list of matches could be thousands of people long.

In most cases, you will be able to find some common ancestors with your DNA matches. A DNA test will increase your chance of finding family members and learning more about your family tree.

Genealogy can be confusing and seem like a big task, but by starting with what you know and taking your time, you will be on your way to building your family tree. In no time at all you’ll find a favorite new hobby in genealogy.  Enjoy!