Have you ever wondered who your ancestors were—what they did, where they lived? I still remember the first time my grandfather showed me a family tree that traced our lineage back to the 1300s. I was fascinated and spent hours poring over the names, wondering about the people those names belonged to and what their stories were.
Learning more about your ancestors doesn’t have to be hard—in fact, it can often be a lot of fun! If you’re wondering how to make a family tree, just follow the tips below.
1. Talk to your family.
This might seem like an obvious step, but don’t dismiss it too quickly. Some of the most valuable information you find, especially at the beginning of your genealogical journey, will probably come from family.
During family get-togethers, start asking questions about your family’s past. This is a great opportunity to learn about living family members as well as ancestors who have already passed away. If you need help knowing what to ask, try checking out this list of interview questions, or consider asking for help from one of FamilyArc’s personal historians. All of our personal historians are skilled interviewers and writers who can help you begin uncovering those buried family stories.
Additionally, make a list of more distant relatives who might know useful information and contact them. Chances are someone else in your family has been doing some genealogical digging as well and will be happy to share.
2. Subscribe to a genealogical website.
Dozens of websites offer help to people looking for information about their ancestors. Many of these sites require a monthly or annual fee, but paying that fee gains you access to all of their databases, which frequently include years of census records and other valuable archives. These websites also act as educational resources with hundreds of tips on the best research practices.
Remember, though, that the first piece of information you find about an ancestor may or may not be accurate. If possible, confirm your findings by backing them up with multiple sources.
3. Visit local cemeteries, libraries, and museums.
Cemeteries: Visiting cemeteries may sound morbid, but if your family lived in one area for a long time, a cemetery may be one of the best places to find relatives’ full names and the dates of their births and deaths. Check in with cemetery employees when you arrive, and they will likely provide you with a map of all the grave sites.
Libraries: Libraries have often already paid for access to various genealogical websites and may allow you to use them for free at certain times. Some libraries may even host occasional after-hours genealogical research events, as well as classes that train patrons on how to use the available software. Check with your library to see what resources it has available.
Museums: Again, if your family lived in one area for a long time, museums detailing local history may have useful information. Take a field trip and see what you can find—and don’t be afraid to ask museum employees for help!
4. Check military and immigration records, the U.S. Census, and newspaper archives.
Military records and the U.S. Census are often the best way to locate names of additional ancestors because of the widespread reach of people and time they cover. Immigration and emigration records can often tell you when ancestors arrived or left this country. As technology advances, it has become easier than ever to search many of these records through online databases.
Once you have an ancestor’s name, newspaper archives may be able to provide you with even more information about that person. You may learn someone’s date of death and the names of other relatives from obituaries, or you may stumble onto a goldmine of information about that ancestor’s life and occupation through articles who mention him or her by name.
5. Compile your information into an archive to share with your family.
It’s important that your hard work doesn’t go to waste, so put some thought into the best way to store the information you gather for future generations. In this age of digitization, there are more ways than ever to save and share stories about your family.
At FamilyArc, we have built a top-notch, museum-quality digital archive platform. Through our software, anything that can be digitized — written stories, audio recordings, video memories, photographs, etc. — can be shared with family and stored securely for future generations to treasure. We believe in the power of stories and want to make sharing those stories possible for your family.
Still not sure where to start? We would love to help! Contact us today to schedule a live demo or to talk about how we can help your family begin their storytelling journey.