Explore Your History to Better Understand Your Present
Have you ever tried to find someone’s phone number or address using an online directory, only to be stopped in your tracks? You’ll likely have a far different experience when researching a family member from generations past. Every one of us leaves a paper trail (or these days, a digital footprint) during our lifetime, and information that pre-dates the internet is often easier to find than the neighbor’s number you forgot to plug into your phone.
If you’re willing to do some digging, you’ll probably find that a staggering amount of information is available about your family, allowing you to document your family history. You’re limited only by your curiosity and the amount of time you’re willing to devote to research.
Finding and Recording Your Family Tree
There are so many ways to find family information, and the internet is an indispensable tool for researching family history. Here are some of the best sources to help you get started:
Ancestry.com or HeritageQuest.com have digitized many census holdings from the National Archives. They also offer other documents and resources for researching your genealogy. These services may charge a fee.
FamilySearch.org provides an online search of millions of names that have been entered in an International Genealogical Index.
The “Big List of Genealogy Links” is another good source of information with many other valuable links.
Your local library may offer a subscription for searching the U.S. Census records.
Stay Organized While You Search
During your research, keep what you find organized by making print or computerized copies that also note where the information came from.
Make copies of the records you have, such as military records and marriage certificates. Remember that relatives can also be a source of information. Make copies of any records and photos they have that will add to your narrative, and interview them for information and stories.
Make Your Family Story Come Alive with Photos
Gather as many photos as you can, and make sure to caption them with the year and who is in them – to the best of your ability. You can also supplement photos of your family members with photos from the era, which you can find on Ancestry.com. For example, if your family immigrated to the United States on a certain ship, but you don’t have photos, images of that ship may very well be in circulation online. You can download and print a copy to enhance your scrapbook or memory book.
Other pieces of information to consider are letters, maps, tickets and newspaper clippings. You’re limited only by the amount of research you’re willing to do, and the items you’re able to find during your search.
Organizing and Presenting Your Findings
Once you have gathered your information, you’ll have to decide on the best way to store and present your findings. Here are a couple of thought-starters:
Make a video and make it a family affair
Grandchildren as young as elementary school can enjoy making videos that document the family story. You and your grandchildren can use a smartphone and free computer applications to record videos and edit them. Have your grandchildren interview you and other relatives about your early memories, facts and stories, and put them together with old photos to make a family history movie.
Create a scrapbook
Another fun way to document the family history is to create a scrapbook of family stories, documents and photos. You may even want to have bound copies made for family members.
However you choose to research and document your story, one thing is certain: these records will be treasured – and added to – for generations to come.